The Detroit Fire Department is in the midst of a crisis.
The city is sending an increasing number of malfunctioning rigs to fires that are ravaging neighborhoods, claiming lives and driving out residents. In just the past two months, an alarming 48 fire trucks and engines broke down while responding to or fighting fires, according to dispatch reports.
When firefighters make it to the scene, they’re often impeded by broken fire hydrants and the lack of basic equipment like saws and two-way radios. And the city’s arson unit is so understaffed, it’s only able to investigate a small portion of the suspicious fires, which account for a majority of Detroit’s blazes.
This year, we are going to document every structure fire – more than 3,000, if the past few years are any indication – to provide an unflinching, exhaustive look at the impact of the crisis and how Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration handles it. As part of the project, Detroit on Fire, we will review daily run sheets, 911 calls and dispatch records and interview firefighters and residents. We’ll also provide maps, details and photos of every fire-damaged structure with the assistance of Detroit-based Loveland Technology and Motor City Mapping, an initiative to survey and digitize every property in the city.
We’ll begin publishing the information Thursday.
“We must do better,” Executive Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins told me during an hour-long interview in his office on Aug. 29, which happened to be a wild day when fires broke out in 25 homes, nine cars, a school and an apartment building. “We can’t operate like we did in the past.”
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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.