Detroit firefighters threatened with discipline for taking donations, talking to media

By Steve Neavling

As the Detroit Fire Department sinks into a deeper funding crisis, placing more lives in danger, Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration is cracking the whip on firefighters who accept donations or speak to the media.

Firefighters were recently told they could be disciplined for blowing the whistle or taking donations, even though many of them are forced to work with malfunctioning rigs and equipment. Fire houses often lack proper plumbing, heating, mattresses and other bare necessities.

Memos were recently posted to remind firefighters about the ban on speaking with the media.

So what’s the penalty for letting the public know how their dollars are – or are not – being spent?

“For a first offense, it could range from a written reprimand to a suspension of up to six days,” Executive Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins told us in a statement.

Mayor Duggan’s administration has become incensed with firefighters for blowing the whistle on dangerously malfunctioning fire trucks and ladders and the failing emergency alert system that forces firefighters to rig a scanner with pop cans to know when they are being called for a fire.

At least one firefighter from Ladder 22 has been threatened with discipline for expressing safety concerns to a reporter. Others said the message has been very clear: Keep the fire crisis quiet.

Mayor Duggan’s administration defended the crackdown, saying the rules have been in place for a long time. Commissioner Jenkins said the department still encourages donations to the Fire Department, but only through the Detroit Public Safety Foundation.

Jenkins sent us this statement:

It has always been City policy for cash or goods donated to the City of Detroit to be reported through City Council.  However, since the Detroit Public Safety Foundation has come into existence, this has given the public safety departments a streamlined way to accept such donations. The DPSF is a 501(c)(3) and acts independently of City government.

Reporting of all donations, whether cash or goods, is being done for transparency and accountability.  City employees should never be in the position of having accepted a donation that later cannot be accounted for.  The Detroit Fire Department is a large organization, and the operations of its fire stations are paramount, including the acts of community groups and individuals that wish to help individual stations.  By engaging City Council or DPSF, the Fire Department Administration can ensure that such individuals or companies are properly acknowledged, and in cases of those seeking tax advantages of making such donations, ensure that those benefits are realized.

If the PSF ever declines to accept a donation the DFD is still able to accept through the City Council process.  Yes, the foundation in some instances receives a percentage of donations as administrative costs, but DFD cannot elaborate on that process.

If we get a donation that is accepted through City Council the timeline varies as a resolution letter is completed, which must also be signed by Budget Director and Finance Director.

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.

  • Susan Durant- LaLonde

    Maybe Mayor Duggan and Chief Jenkins should crack down on the selling of drugs in some of the Fire Houses. THAT would be a better start then penalizing Firefighters that speak to the media. Our Firefighters put their lives on the line daily and the least the city can do is give them equipment that works.

  • tony trupiano

    OMG! So what should firefighters say about poor and unsafe conditions that need to be addressed yesterday? …..O everything is just fine when the truth is we have to jump start our trucks most of the time and if I tell the truth I could loose my job…………This kind of thing happens in North Koria OR under Mike Duggans watch it appears….don’t ask don’t tell…..What a shamful situation….
    Thank You for bringing this to light Steve@MCM…

    • javierjuanmanuel

      But it is. You can say what ever you want, and take the lumps, like be unemployable, lose your job etc.

      Or to get the job, the healthcare, the pension, and retire in 20 years, there are conditions.

      Are you going to hand back your pension and stomp off because you care so much about free speech ?

      No need to answer, I know you are not going to hand back a pension worth a couple million bucks, and health care worth a million bucks also. You care, but not that much.

  • LAHeat

    Mr. Duggan! SHAME ON YOU! You of all people threatening firefighters for speaking to the media based on the flimsy (stupid) excuse “…the rules have been in place for a long time.” What the heck does that have to do with it? NOTHING! SO, instead of trying to rectify the problem –
    you want to discipline hard working fire fighters for speaking the truth? All you have done is awakened a sleeping dragon that is sure to report every malfunction the fire department is living with!! Mr. Duggan have you forgotten:

    “The union that represents Detroit’s nearly 900 firefighters stood in support of Mike Duggan for Mayor Wednesday, calling him the one candidate who can fix the city’s broken fire department and restore reliable service to residents.” from the Michigan Chronicle Oct 3, 2013.

    And this from the same news piece:

    “Duggan said he was honored to have the support of both the city’s EMS workers and now its fire fighters. ‘Our fire fighters and EMS technicians are working in conditions that no first responder should have to,’ Duggan said. “We need to provide them with proper equipment that is better maintained. We also need to address once and for all the problem of the vacant buildings that make up the majority of their fire runs and pose significant threats to their safety. These are the priorities I will begin to address five weeks from now.”

    To Mr. Duggan: Hey here is one for you – Why don’t you shut the F*** up, get to work and fix the problem like you promised?

    To Detroit City Firefighters: “No good deed goes unpunished” and thank you for your service in the worst of conditions!

    • Susan Durant- LaLonde

      Remember, Duggan was in the Ed McNamara regime. Bad habits are hard to break……

    • javierjuanmanuel

      depends, is it a condtion of taking the job, and the firefighters said ok 20 years ago to get the job, now they want the job, the looming pension they will get next year, AND to get to violate their contract ?

      Then no, I support the FD, but screw that individual, he should not have accepted the job, should not have worked, and he can hand his pension and health care right back.

  • Billy Blake

    Detroit Public Safety Foundation want their greedy hands on the money.

    • javierjuanmanuel

      Not this money, there is not much donated, look at what the funding is in detroit, for schools, for parks, for FD, and look what they get. The corruption comes off the top, not from bake sales.

      Thet take millions off the top, not $200 from field trip money.

      There were something like 200 ghost teachers in DPD, every principal knew it, dozens of people in accounting and pay roll must have known, and I have yet to hear where the money went.

      Same with the 500-1000 people that were getting outrageous teacher health care and not even being elligble. As far as I know, not a single person was charged with fraud, not a single person was fired.

      I assume every FD has money for basic repair, and things like light bulbs and toliet paper, but that is stolen.

  • DownriverMichiganExposed

    Firefighters are being gagged in all departments…for the 12¢ they make and the new amazing health care we started receiving….. time to start looking into the EBT card and Marvin.

  • Mikey Jones

    If no one complains, then there must not be any problem!

  • Fergus

    I know this is a Fire Department website. But it would be helpful, in framing basic context for this story, to make clear how many street cops are free to talk to news media.

  • Tim Burke


    • I’d like to take a moment and thank Steve for allowing pictures on his website.

  • bebow

    The firefighters need a media contact who will guarantee their anonymity. Can you do that, Steve? These elected and appointed @-holes keep acting like a bunch of dopefiends and forgetting they work for us. There can be no secrets here.

    • muckraker_steve

      Bebow, I am constantly in contact with firefighters about what is happening, and I assure them confidentiality. This effort to freeze information to the public won’t happen under my watch.

      • bebow

        Thank you. There’s no legitimate reason for keeping secrets from the public.

      • DownriverMichiganExposed

        Detroit is not the only city with corruption. It seems to be like Ebola it’s very contagious. Most politicians are plagued with it. We need to isolate them, it has become an epidemic.

        • javierjuanmanuel

          they are worse off, detroit on the books spends money on schools, parks until recently, cops and more. It just never makes it to the street, the money goes to the ether.

          Detroit spends almost 16,000 per kid in school in a class room of 35 kids, they spend 560,000 on a cinder block room, with terrible lights, old ass desks, old books, in a building built in 1930 that is paid off etc.

          No one does the math on these things, for 1180 hours in class that is 474 dollars per hour, more then we spent on bankruptsy experts and everyone was flipping out over that.

          Cops we for the last 20 years spent 1.5-2 times as much as allot of other big towns, and we have as much as 8 times the violent crime and murders.

          We spend the money on the books, where it goes, who knows.

          • DownriverMichiganExposed

            Oh no!!! Don’t open Pandora Box! The teachers unions and all the propaganda they spew about the lack of money in public education. If each family was given the amount of money Lansing dishes out for each child, all of our kids would have the option to attend highly accredited schools. Verses, what they are thrown into. I am not saying all school teachers are bad, I am not saying every teacher is bad. But, what I am saying is the SCHOOL SYSTEM is broken and corrupt! I am the daughter of a teacher who spent 30+ years on the front lines in Detroit. It was never about the kids. It was about moving them through the system. I can still still remember my teacher parent coming home furious about it..

          • Frank Lee

            What the hell does any of this have to do with fires, firefighters, or donations?

          • DownriverMichiganExposed

            Hey Frank! Learn to read the string of threads.. You won’t come off as such a dip

          • Frank Lee

            I appreciate getting advice on how to read carefully, from someone who writes “should of never passed.”