Detroit Fire Department ran out of rigs to respond to emergencies; 3 firefighters injured

Archive photo by Steve Neavling.
Archive photo by Steve Neavling.

It was a frigid, frustrating and overwhelming 14 hours for Detroit’s exhausted firefighters.

Between 2 p.m. and 4 a.m. Tuesday morning, three firefighters were injured, the city didn’t have enough rigs to respond to fires and wind knocked down hundreds of power lines.

The culprit – an ill-equipped fire department and strong winds that howled into the early morning.

During the 14-hour period, the understaffed fire department responded to more than 200 calls for fires, people trapped in cars and downed trees and power lines.

The department was so overwhelmed that some downed power lines sparked for up to 45 minutes before available fire rigs were available. Shortly before 4 p.m., firefighters were unable to save a burning house on the 14000 block of Ohio because there were no extra fire engines available. At about the same time, a fire engine malfunctioned at the scene of a commercial building fire at Alfred and Orleans.

Making matters worse, Engine #29 was stuck inside its quarters because the power went down, and most fire stations don’t have backup generators at a time when they are most needed.

More than a dozen fire engines were tied up babysitting downed power lines to keep the live wires from harming residents. In some cases, firefighters babysat downed lines for more than eight hours because DTE Energy was backed up.

Two firefighters narrowly escaped serious injury when a utility pole struck one of them and trapped the other in his rig at Springwells and Olivet at 11:33 p.m. Another firefighter was injured at a garage fire on St. Lawrence.

During the 14-hour period, 10 houses were on fire, which is about average. Firefighters also rescued people from three cars that were charged with electricity from downed power lines.

Fires in Detroit are burning longer and causing more damage because of an aging fleet of rigs that routinely break down or malfunction.

The Fire Department plans to have new fire engines next year, but long-needed replacements for the ladder trucks and squads will hold off until the city has money.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

  • maggiemay

    Funny, the fire dept. always has rigs available when the Detroit cop, Jeff Sklar calls them about people grilling in Balduck Park. They’re there within minutes and so are the cops when he calls them about a dog being walked off leash. It’s happened more than a dozen times and tickets are never issued. Too bad one disgruntled cop can use the resources to carry out a personal vendetta.

  • bebow

    Them city is plagued with a host of interconnected problems.

  • Michael

    I’ll be interested to see how fast these new rigs go to sh*t. Not because the firefighters mistreat them, but because the bean counters don’t give them enough money to perform maintenance and repair.

  • Joseph Berrelez

    We have just been told they are closing 3 more fire companies taking us to 49 total. There is an absolute and total disregard for the safety and well being of the men and women of the fire department. Adding to this, they plan on adding the additional work load of medical first responder without the purchase of any new fire rigs ( maybe July ) or the proper equiptment to handle this complete change in working conditions. The citizens deserve better than what were able to provide.

    • muckraker_steve

      Have you heard what companies they plan to close? You may always email me and have anonymity at Wishing everyone the best.

    • Michael Campbell

      Joseph I don’t think it is a disregard for safety but rather staying within a budget that has been degraded significantly since 2008. In the short-term you can buy on debt but it is not a viable long-term solution. Normally the next cut would come from the wages and benefits pool. I hope Detroit can find a way out of this economic nose-dive but from a fleet management perspective you can only provide what you have money for.