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.”
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, www.DetroitHydrants.com, 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.
“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.
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 lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.