Mayor Duggan’s graffiti crackdown targets fundraiser for firefighters

A broken hydrant poster is pasted on a light pole in Detroit. Photo by Steve Neavling.
A broken hydrant poster is pasted on a light pole in Detroit. Photo by Steve Neavling.

Ben Kramp was alarmed by the hundreds of broken hydrants in Detroit.

So the 23-year-old did what any good graphic design student would: He created striking images of hydrants marked with yellow out-of-service discs and began circulating them.

“My original intent was to raise awareness about the hydrants and help raise money for firefighters,” Kramp told me Tuesday night. “I’m trying to do all I can.”

A busted hydrant in Detroit. Photo by Steve Neavling.
A busted hydrant in Detroit. Photo by Steve Neavling.

What Kramp didn’t expect was for Detroit police to threaten him with arrest under Mayor Mike Duggan’s graffiti crackdown. On Tuesday, an officer knocked on his mother’s door in Farmington Hills, saying they wanted to question him about his images, some of which ended up on light poles, bridges and abandoned buildings in the Motor City.

“I put out free posters on campus, and I’ve been handing them out since then,” Kramp said. “Whatever people do after that is up to them.”

Kramp said he can’t understand how he’s become a target since he’s not posting the hydrant images.

The posters and stickers were part of his senior thesis earlier this year at the College for Creative Studies. He launched a website,, to call attention to the broken hydrants that are hampering firefighting efforts and causing fires to become more destructive, burning out neighborhood cores.

He’s also selling the stickers and posters and donating the proceeds to Detroit’s firefighters, who are forced to rely on defective rigs and hydrants to extinguish blazes in the nation’s busiest city for arsons. Since Mayor Duggan banned donations to firefighters, Kramp plans to begin dropping off cash unannounced to firehouses beginning today in an envelope sealed with a hydrant sticker.

fire hydrant
Broken, neglected fire hydrant. Photo by Steve Neavling.

“If firefighters can have a good steak dinner, that makes me happy,” Kramp said.

Kramp’s grandfather, Emory Kramp, was a captain in the Detroit Fire Department in the 1970s and ’80s.

“It breaks my heart to see what has happened to the Fire Department since my grandpa was a firefighter,” he said.

Exclusive: Detroit neglects hundreds of hydrants in neighborhoods and downtown.

Now Kramp finds himself in the crosshairs of Mayor Duggan’s graffiti crackdown, which led to the controversial arrest of world-famous street artist Shepard Fairey.

“The idea was to open people’s eyes to the issue of broken hydrants,” Kramp said. “This is how democracy works.”

Neither Mayor Duggan’s office nor the Police Department would comment.

Check out Kramp’s Instagram account for photos of the hydrant posters and stickers.


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.

  • Donald E. Hodge

    Your trying to tell me if someone stepped forward and said, ” I would like to Donate 25 million dollars worth of Brand new Fire Trucks to Detroit Fire. ” That they wouln’t take it because it is against the rules! Well then, I bel

    • Donald E. Hodge

      nobody will move back to Detroit at this point. I mean we can`t even help our own firemen? The Mayors office must really hate the fire department. It must be part of the job as mayor. I mean ask all the older officers in the department. this screwing over and cheating the fire department started back in Coleman Young`s day.

  • javierjuanmanuel

    The kid is right, he is more liable or responsible than if i buy ironclad gloves at lowes at i put the sticker they come with on a stop sign, instead of my tool box. Same with stickers i have received fir hunting gear, perfornance muffler, my security monitoring company times hundreds of things.

    They are picking on him because he is a nice kid in school and he is young THATS IT!

    if i call the city to say a 50 year d crackhead is stealing a light pole, they do not care!

    • pubestache

      Exactly! Thank you.

  • Shatner

    I honestly have no idea how anyone thinks people to move back to Detroit with crap like this happening. (amongst the other D-town melee) No donations to firefighters? If not the random cash/envelope scheme, seems the only other method would be to deliver hard assets like trucks, clothing and gear directly so that the donation money bypasses the corruption machine.

    Perhaps the unspoken goal is for the city to deteriorate to a manageable level and then wipe the slate clean or continue as a modest community of 30-50,000.

    • disqus_GxFSMhn70a

      hey whatever happened to that fire truck that got donated? Steve can you check up on that???!!!

      • muckraker_steve

        Do you remember where it came from? I don’t recall a donated truck for awhile, but it’s possible that it happened and I forgot about it. I have seen a yellow ladder truck from New York that is outside of the repair shop, but I don’t think it’s aerial works. I would love to check into it though. Thanks for asking.

        • disqus_GxFSMhn70a

          i’ll have to dig a bit but it was a private collector who donated it….some 3-4 yrs ago…
          here’s a link to ronnie dahls report on it

          • muckraker_steve

            I’ll do some digging too. Thanks for the heads up.

          • disqus_GxFSMhn70a

            I just did a search on craigslist and found used fire engines. One was for airports….can’t they get any from federal agencies?

          • javierjuanmanuel

            You can get borderline mint condition, 20 year old trucks that cost 400k new for 25k. They have 10,000 miles on them, no rust, barely used.

            Tons of middle class and upper middle class suburbs just buy new stuff every 20 years, no matter what, because people like to see a new truck, and troy, gp, royal oak, warren, srerling heights, dearborn, clinton township have the money.

            Detroit should be buying these at auction. Places like troy, they are 1/8 the size of detroit, they only have a couple fires per year. A 20 year old truck from troy has less use than a 1 month old truck in detroit

          • disqus_GxFSMhn70a

            guess that would be too sensible a thing to do…..wasn’t there some problem with the contract for the new engines? lots of changes…..inept, incompetent? error prone? who knows…….

          • Donald E. Hodge

            that`s a great idea.

          • banmar

            There’s actually federal government-approved auction sites where you can pick up lightly-used, mint condition fire trucks for a fraction of their original price (because of state and federal purchasing guidelines, Craigslist and Ebay aren’t options). We’ve bought some great fire trucks on there; you just have to go pick them up. The DFD really should look into it.

        • Klann Killa

          That’s the rig.

    • javierjuanmanuel

      They needs tens of millions to make a dent. Its not possible. The city needs to collect taxes, cut corruption, and spend wisely. Thats the only way to fix it

    • MSUfan

      The in the link to the article about the city no allowing donation it’s pointed out that city has a non profit set up to accept donations. So why not send the money their? If recall it was used to donate as number of new cars to police deparment of a couple of years ago.

      It has always been City policy for cash or goods donated to the City of Detroit to be reported through City Council. However, since the Detroit Public Safety Foundation has come into existence, this has given the public safety departments a streamlined way to accept such donations. The DPSF is a 501(c)(3) and acts independently of City government.

      • Klann Killa

        Yeah, like when proctor& gamble donated a whole ’53 trailer full of Charmin toilet paper. The “foundation” sat on it for over a year, the only reason they came off of it is because someone did a story on just that. I guarantee those in charge of the “foundation” had Charmin falling off of their shelves at home. The administration conveys one thing to the press, behind the scenes it’s always the exact opposite. I’ve been watching this same movie for 20+ years, the only thing that changes are the actors.