City: Releasing records of broken hydrants would ‘start a mass fire’

Caution tape is used to alert firefighters to bad hydrants. Steve Neavling/MCM
Caution tape is used to alert firefighters to bad hydrants. Steve Neavling/MCM
Mayor Mike Duggan
Mayor Mike Duggan

Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration has declined a Motor City Muckraker request for public records that show how many fire hydrants are broken and where they are located across the city, saying the information would be used by an arsonist “to plan and start a mass fire in those specific areas.”

The request was part of our two-month investigation that revealed Thursday that the city has neglected hundreds, if not thousands, of broken hydrants in front of occupied houses, apartment high-rises, restaurants, downtown buildings and even three fire stations.

The city claimed to it knew about only 70 broken hydrants, so we wanted to see where they were and why they haven’t been fixed. But providing a list “would assist an arsonist to plan and to start a mass fire in those specific areas,” city attorney Ellen Ha wrote in a letter denying the Freedom of Information Act request.

The historic Old Wayne County Building. Steve Neavling/MCM
The historic Old Wayne County Building. Steve Neavling/MCM

Never mind that broken hydrants are easy to find because they are either wrapped in yellow caution tape or have a yellow “out-of-service” disc attached to the front of them.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, which is responsible for fixing hydrants and also is part of Duggan’s administration, declined our similar request for hydrant locations, saying the information “presents issues of security and safety of persons and property.”

To determine how the city managed to neglect hundreds of hydrants, we also requested records of inspections and repairs over the past year. But the city insisted we must pay hundreds of dollars so a staff member in the law department can redact the locations of all of the hydrants, which would make it impossible to determine whether repairs were made.

We plan to appeal the denial and redactions.

In August, Mayor Duggan’s administration demanded $42,000 to produce EMS records. When we requested e-mails between Duggan’s administration and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr in October, the city demanded more than $12,000.


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.

  • javierjuanmanuel

    Well he does have point, I am convinced there are atleast 15-20 arsonists who REALLY get off on the fires, I mean like sexually. I bet a fewe moved here from around the country, just because you can set a fire every week and scratch that itch, and likely do it for 20 years and never be busted.

    Anyone on any block, its your block that matters to you, you can see if the hydrant has a tag on it, or if someone stole the whole dang thing down to the base, or took off just the caps etc.

    Also with out the man power to fix the hydrants and the money, releasing the info does not fix anything.

    I would rather they get off their wallet, open the check book, sub it out to what ever suburban contractor will take the job, or divide it up into ten jobs, and get it done.

    There is no reason this cannot be done in a week or two. There are hundreds of licensed plumbing companies that can tackel this.

  • RedVagOfCourage

    What a joke. I would almost prefer them to just tell the truth and say “FUCK YOU!” whenever someone tries to get information or service out of the Detroit government.

  • lake_forest

    Anyone with a brain knows the infrastructure is barely holding on by a thread. Do not live in Detroit. Keep your visits brief.

  • Trexinmichigan

    Mike, really? . You’re going to have a mass fire with or without an arsonist. Fix that shit now.

  • ruffinoruffino

    Detroit: Business as usual.

  • nolimitdetroiter

    What a ridiculous response.

  • bebow

    Same old.