Detroit firefighters blow whistle on hazardous firehouse conditions, no smoke alarms

This firehouse in the Cass Corridor has more than a dozen violations. Photo by Steve Neavling/MCM.
This firehouse in the Cass Corridor has more than a dozen violations. Photo by Steve Neavling/MCM.

Many Detroit fire stations don’t have working fire alarms. Their quarters often lack locks and emergency generators, and sewage routinely rises from the basement.

Fed up, firefighters from Engine 20 and Squad 2 launched a complaint about their long-neglected quarters at 433 W. Alexanderine in the Cass Corridor, and the findings by the city’s Fire Marshal Division were troubling:

  • Sprinkler system not inspected/serviced since 1998
  • Fire alarm system not properly maintained – 2 trouble codes (smoke detectors) no current service tags or records available
  • Emergency generator not maintained, no service records available
  • CO detectors not installed where deemed appropriate
  • Switch and outlet cover plates missing throughout(electrical).
  • Egress lighting not working
  • Handrails damaged or missing
  • Electrical panels not protected
  • Stairwell doors not closing fully and latching
  • Numerous doors with damaged locksets/ will not positive latch
  • Numerous doors missing door handles
  • Ceiling integrity compromised in many locations
  • Flexible vent pipe used on gas clothes dryer
  • Doors with missing, or damaged door closers
  • Apparatus doors with safety features disabled
  • Medic’s plymovent cannot be attached to vehicle

Part of the problem is that Mayor Duggan banned donations to firefighters, who used the money to fix their quarters.

Firefighters from Ladder 20 and Squad 2 said their station has been a dangerous nightmare for years because the city has ignored festering problems. The city, for example, has failed to service the sprinklers, fire alarm system and emergency generator for up to two decades. The ceiling is beginning to collapse, and much of the electrical wiring is a fire hazard. The fire station has no carbon-monoxide detectors.

Fire commissioner Edsel Jenkins
Fire commissioner Edsel Jenkins

Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins said the department quickly fixed many of the problems and discovered there was nothing wrong with the sprinklers and fire alarm. The General Services Department (GSD), which handles building maintenance, is addressing the problem across the city, Jenkins said.

“GSD is updating its maintenance plan for all fire stations to provide a full proactive inspection once a month of each fire house,” Commissioner Jenkins said in an e-mail to us. “Battalion Chiefs also will conduct their own inspections twice a month. This is an effort to be more proactive and less reactive in addressing issues as they arise at our fire stations.”

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.

  • disqus_vhLozcit3f

    So here’s the fun question: city facilities clearly haven’t been inspected by either the Buildings, Safety Engineering & Environment Department, nor the Fire Marshal. Why? If the conditions at this facility are present in others, it would stand to reason that the majority of physical structures that the city works out of probably don’t come close to being code compliant.

    The only exception I take with this article is the idea that the DFD doesn’t take donations contributes to this problem. This is a operational problem. You don’t fund facilities maintenance through Kickstarter. The scale of the problem means that you have to budget for this stuff, not rely on contributions of toilet paper to fix the problem.

    • Can’t agree enough with what you’ve said about donations.

      There’s a sentiment starting to take hold in Detroit that no matter what, there will be a billionaire here or a corporation there to open up their wallets and pay for the city to keep running. After all, if Gilbert can do all the renovation downtown, why not kick a bit over to the fire department?

      This city government exists to provide services to the citizens of Detroit. Broadly speaking, it isn’t that the city doesn’t have money. If the fire department is in the state that it’s currently in today, it is in that state because the city has failed, on a catastrophic scale, to manage its money in a manner that allows for adequate city services.

      If donors hand out money to the fire department, we excuse the city government of its duty to properly fund city services. If Dan Gilbert pays millions of dollars to outfit the fire department, then he and we are enabling the government to neglect it’s duty to protect citizens.

      Think of it this way. The city, with its mismanagement, puts both firefighters’ and citizens’ lives in jeopardy. If we allow donations, we’re further encouraging gross negligence.

      • javierjuanmanuel

        66 percent of every dollar goes to legacy costs. That leaves very little for operational costs.

    • javierjuanmanuel

      It is budgeted, its likely the same reason dps would gave a school for 1500 kids, one bathroom open, no toilet paper, even in good times like say 2002.

      Because its all stolen, the products, or the money to buy the Products are stollen.

      Do you think they make budgets with, no light bulbs, no salt, no paint, no repair on 70 year old buildings, no batteries, no furnace filters, no drinking fountains, etc etc.

      Not even shameless detroit leaders would publicly suggest such a thing

      • disqus_vhLozcit3f

        They wouldn’t suggest that they’re not doing an accurate job of budgeting, because it would make them look terrible.

        But the fact of the matter is this: City budgets, for some time now, have been largely a work of fiction. Expenditures v. revenues were never in balance, properly accounting for departmental needs was never done accurately, and adherence to budgets in place was never a priority.

        So, yeah, while the above is true with respect to mismanagement, the underlying baseline on which we operate, budgets, are fiction.

  • Jesse Rangel

    That particular fire station was also renovated in the not too distant past at a premium. Who’s relative got that contract?