Second-alarm fire in Detroit apartment leaves downtown, east side woefully underprotected

A second-alarm fire tore through this apartment at E. Canfield and St. Jean. Photo via Google Maps.
A second-alarm fire tore through this apartment at E. Canfield and St. Jean. Photo via Google Maps.

Part of our yearlong investigation of the beleaguered Detroit Fire Department. 

With a dangerous shortage of working rigs and firefighters, Detroit’s east side and downtown was without adequate fire protection Monday night as about 50 firefighters battled a second-alarm blaze inside an occupied apartment building at E. Canfield and St. Jean.

Making matters worse, two chiefs couldn’t respond because their trucks wouldn’t start when the second alarm was called at 10:47 p.m. About 11 minutes later, Chief 9 finally got his truck started.

The fire, which is under investigation, tore through the two-story brick building as residents fled, many waiting in a warming bus until they could find a place to stay. It wasn’t immediately clear whether there were any injuries.

Dramatic budget cuts over the past five years have left the east side with half the number of fire companies and a frail fleet of poorly maintained rigs.

We are documenting every fire during a yearlong investigation of the beleaguered fire department, which has been neglected by city leaders for more than two decades. The results have been disastrous as neighborhood cores burn, residents move out and people die.

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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.

  • banmar

    On top of all this, the DFD lost control of the fire and retreated from the building, fighting it from the outside as the fire burned through the roof and rendering families with nothing but the clothes on their backs. That’s not the DFD’s fault; they do the best they can with what they have. God bless the DFD for doing a fabulous job for the residents of the city with what little they have to work with. Still, you have to wonder whether the outcome would have been different if the rigs were well-maintained and started when they were needed. After reading this, I realize my suburban town with six firehouses with engines, pumpers and towers that are all in excellent shape are a wealth of riches.

    You know, it should be the other way around, with the city having better equipment, both basic and advanced, in exemplary shape, than the ‘burbs. That DFD should be able to provide coverage utilizing state-of-the-art equipment when there’s a two-alarm fire or a mutual-assistance call from a close suburban neighbor. Unfortunately, that practice has been dying out around many big cities

  • Charles R. Rice

    The public is being lied to, and the administration is on the cheap. If shorter response times are needed for EMS they will train firefighters and equipment to lesson the response time. Just like the multiple alarm above what happens on a extremely hot day or cold day when fire crews are running all over the city for Heat or cold injuries and illnesses and your nearest fire companies are not available? Logic dictates if your EMS response times are slow invest in Medics and Rigs. If your coverage is suffering because of cuts and your residents fire protection insurance goes up, maybe thats the wrong place to cut. These geniuses and bean counters have costs Detroiters their very lives. People die around the block from a browned out fire station. No one cares, this has been going on for a few years now, no traction!

    • curtis

      Not only was the Eastside unprotected but the far Northwest side was also. E-54 (Grandriver and Trinity) and E-57 (Burt Rd and Schoolcraft) were enroute to the apartment fire all while E-30 ( Meyer and Puritan ) E-53 (Greenfield and Fenkell) E-59 and Squad 1 (Southfield and Curtis ) E-55 and Ladder 27 (Southfield and Joy rd) were all engaged in another fire and or out of service due to rehab after being at the apartment fire or another fire. Leaving only Ladder 26 (grandriver and trinity) to cover the Northwest side of the City.

      • Charles R. Rice

        Oh L-26 my old company, yeah the can handle the entire west side single handed. Lol Thats how i taught em to get down!

    • Deanne Durham

      Well it needs to stop!!! People’s homes n lives matter