Highland Park firefighters risk lives over turf battle with Detroit

Flames were ripping through the second floor of an occupied house when Highland Park firefighters arrived.

Instead of calling for help from Detroit under an improved mutual aid agreement, the commanding officer decided to go it alone, a disastrous decision that risked the lives of his fellow firefighters and caused the blaze to burn for more than four hours Sunday morning.

376 Richton
This house at 376 Richton burned for 4 hours because Highland Park refused to call for help from Detroit. By Steve Neavling/MCM

But the poor decision-making, which is now under investigation by Highland Park officials, didn’t end there. Angry that the blaze was growing, the commanding officer, Lt. Eric Hollowell, demanded that firefighters stay in the burning house until the blaze was out.

“Do not come back out of that house until that second floor is out,” Hollowell told firefighters at 5:52 a.m. “All interior crew, acknowledge.”

“Got the message,” one crew responded.

When the firefighters emerged from the house, three of them were treated at the scene for injuries.

“This was unacceptable,” Highland Park Fire Chief Derek Hillman told me. “I want to make sure this is handled properly and never happens again. The idea behind mutual aid was to make Highland Park safer.”

This wasn’t the first time Highland Park jeopardized lives and property by refusing to call Detroit since entering into an automatic mutual aid agreement in November 2014.

Shortly after 11 p.m. on March 21, Highland Park firefighters arrived to a house fire after several people, including one with third-degree burns, jumped from the second floor of a house on Ford Street near Woodward. Even as flames began to scorch the neighboring house, Highland Park firefighters never called for help and lost control of the blaze, which burned for more than five hours.

In Detroit, a house rarely burns for more than an hour because the city has more experienced firefighters and more rigs. It’s the big reason that Highland Park entered into an automatic mutual aid agreement with Detroit in November 2014. Click here to read the agreement.

For Detroit, the agreement has been an invaluable asset, quickly putting more firefighters on the scene of a blaze. Since the pact was signed, Highland Park firefighters have helped Detroit extinguish more than 40 house fires, according to a Motor City Muckraker tally.

But sources within both departments said tensions have mounted over who takes command of a fire. On March 2, as flames swept through four houses at the Detroit-Highland Park border, Detroit firefighters requested a senior chief because a Highland Park officer allegedly became belligerent after losing command to a more senior Detroit fire official.

“I have a situation with the officer of Highland Park,” a Detroit chief reported to dispatchers, calling for more Detroit firefighters.

Detroit Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins said his firefighters are prepared to help Highland Park any time the city calls for help.

 

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.

  • chudson

    Whoever wrote this needs to get the whole story,not just what the media is putting out there. Media feeds us alot of propoganda,which leads to ratings or false truths. Tying to give commentary on men and women that risk their lives,while sitting on your couch, in the comfort of your home is beyond me. This sounds to me like a witch hunt, more than turf war as this article stated. What people need really need to talk about is the lack of BROTHERHOOD, as they all call it. The person that originaly posted alot of edited falsehoods should be repremanded. I know everyone watches tv., we all know how they take snippets of what creates rating and peice them together and the crowd goes wild. That is what took place, and now peoples reputation are slandered and drug through the mud. People are for getting what firefighters were doing that evening…RISKING THEIR LIVES, and sacrificing everything! Where is the BROTHERHOOD? You all are all risking the same. My husband was at that scene and never once did he feel like he was being put in danger.I urge you all to think about how this negatively can effect someones reputation and put added stress, on a department. Thank you.

  • John Smith

    Way to shine the light on this crap Steve. Keep up the good work.

  • AH

    This is pretty sad, what happened to the brotherhood and everyone worked for the same goal, putting out the fire. Baby attitudes like that and putting his fire fighters at risk by ordering them to stay in the bld is a little much. Would big shot been happy if one of his FF got killed, guy needs to be removed from service/duty.

    • muckraker_steve

      We are beginning to find out that Lt. Hollowell has a very troubling past as a Highland Park cop. There are a lot of questions about why they would move him to the FD where he has caused numerous problems. He also has run for political seats. Pretty scary.

  • Shannon McDonald

    I think this is good. The little power struggles notwithstanding. I would prefer to see more joint training exercises, but yeah.

  • Shannon McDonald

    Sorry…fought only by Ham for eight hours.

  • Shannon McDonald

    Any similar agreements with Hamtramck? I lived next to a nasty three-hiuse fire fight only by Ham for eight hours.

    • muckraker_steve

      There is a similar agreement with Hamtramck that was signed in November. There is a link to the agreement in the story.