How Mayor Duggan manipulates media about Detroit’s long-neglected fire crisis

First Unitarian
A suspicious fire destroyed this church on Woodward, across the street from the new Red Wings arena development. Photo by Steve Neavling.

Mayor Mike Duggan attacked an in-depth report about the devastating impact of fires in Detroit, shocking the researchers who spent seven months painstakingly collecting the data and surveying the damage.

It’s just the latest rhetoric from an administration that continues to deny serious problems that are plaguing the fire department and burning out neighborhood cores.

Duggan criticized the exhaustive report by Loveland Technologies, a Detroit-based research and mapping group, as “unbelievably inaccurate,” a statement that turns out to be, well, unbelievably inaccurate.

In fact, Loveland Technologies’ data is virtually identical to the information we have collected on the fires in the past year.

A suspicious fire devoured these two homes on the east side. Photo by Steve Neavling.
A suspicious fire devoured these two homes on the east side. Photo by Steve Neavling.

In February 2015, we revealed that the administration wildly underreported arsons to the FBI, and Mayor Duggan continues to use that information to claim – falsely – that suspicious and intentionally set blazes are dramatically declining.

As a result of our report, the Duggan administration said it would revise the numbers, but the FBI said Thursday that it never received new figures from the city.

The report by Loveland Technologies was the most in-depth survey of fires in Detroit in decades, showing the catastrophic impact of arsons as fire trucks continue to break down at alarming rates and hydrants fail to work.  

Since Motor City Muckraker embarked on a yearlong examination of the Fire Department this year, the administration has worked behind-the-scenes to discredit our work, often telling journalists that our information comes from a “firefighter with a vendetta.” Our reports, however, never rely on secondhand information and involve detailed research using public records and surveys of fire scenes.

hydrants woodwardSome of our work, however, has been impeded by the administration, which has denied us access to many public documents, leading us to sue the city for records of broken fire hydrants. The city now contends it lost most of the records, even though the information is kept in log books at fire stations. The case is ongoing and could lead to criminal charges if it’s proven that city officials knowingly withheld public information.

Duggan’s administration has repeatedly declined to comment for our stories and even began retaliating against firefighters for blowing the whistle on alarming safety issues.

Whistleblowers sued Duggan twice when he was a prosecutor amid allegations that he was running a political machine out of his public office.

When asked about the Loveland study on Thursday, Duggan told the media that the survey – somehow – both downplayed and exaggerated the fire numbers.

Mayor Duggan
Mayor Duggan

“They dramatically understated the work that the men and women of the fire department have done,” Duggan said, even as his administration continued to discipline firefighters who dare speak out about defective equipment and other hazards.

Duggan also banned all donations to firefighters.

Loveland CEO Jerry Paffendorf was shocked.

“It seems like everything is perceived as a potential gotcha thing or a political thing, when we’re trying to do the opposite, and the framing and source material show that,” Paffendorf said.

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MiOSHA) is now investigating the city over concerns that whistleblowers are being punished, and safety issues, such as defective rigs, are being ignored.

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

    Steve, who are the company`s building the six new rescue pumpers. also the new Squads. Has that information been made public yet. please tell me pierce is one of the manufactures.

  • javierjuanmanuel

    Yeah , where the hell is miosha. I know of small biz who have recieved 8k fines for no hard hards, or wrong ladder near power lines.

    It seems like easy money in detroit. You could throw the book at dfd, find 50-70k per day no problem

  • javierjuanmanuel

    I was just thinking though, how much worse is the FD than other orgs in the city.

    It is just super obvious when fire related stuff is not run well, there is physical evidence.

    But stay with fire, the FD is not responsible for the pipes, the pipes are terrible. FD is not responsible for tearing down scrapped tore up on buildings, we do not even tear down buildings that have been torched.

    Schools are a mess, parks are a mess, roads are a mess. Just call downtown and try to get someone to answer a phone or be polite to you.

    So I just wanted to make it clear this is not just FD thing, this is a detroit thing. People in chicago think their schools are crap, they graduate 50%, we graduate less than 25 %. People in nyc think their town is rough, its violent. We are about 8 times more violent. We are reaaaaally really messed up in almost every way.

    The best example is the water department is the best run thing in detroit and it is a mess, they still had a guy on the pay roll to shoe horses just two years ago (the department has not used since the 1950s). They do not even bill people, they let people owe 10k in water bills. People go with out bills for years. That is the best run thing in detroit.

    So knowing this, of course it makes sense the FD is a mess.

    If you cannot wave a wand and make the schools as good as chicagos crappy schools, then how do you wave a wand and make police or fire better.

    • Stephen Paraski

      DWSD classified a Blacksmith as a Horseshoe’r. They recruited him from Greenfield Village and he saved the department hundreds of thousands a year. 1 emergency repair on a 36″ main in a vault in eastbound 8 Mile east of Groesbeck, a 6 piece clamp (it had to be in sections to fit in the vault) would have cost over $7500 and had a 30+ day lead time, the Blacksmith constructed it in 6 hours at $14 a hour in 1998. So unless you are well versed in the day to day operations of DWSD you only comment on things people brought up during bankruptcy. How about a comment on DWSD firing all skilled trades and replacing with contractors that are charging up the ass? A licensed plumber working for DWSD made $24 on the check where as a Local 98 Plumber makes $39 on the check and the contractor is getting $200-$225 per hour per Contracts. DWSD is systematically being run into the ground for a reason. Lets go back to the report by Veolia that said the entire department, DWSD as a whole only needed 100 employees to function. 100 employees to run a water treatment and sewage disposal system with thousands of miles of pipes that operates 24-7-365 and supplies safe drinking water to 40% of population of MI? What they did not tell public is it only needs 100 clerical staff to run, they will contract rest out and jack up rates, which they are doing now if you have not noticed the rate increase just in the City of Detroit. The current Manager of Maintenance & Repair Division on Huber Ave. had no prior experience in running a public utility, she was appointed by mayors office. That is why broken mains are allowed to run until local TV shows on 5 o’clock news. Why are Detroiters paying higher rates than suburban rate payers when they, as citizens of Detroit own the system?

      • Stephen Paraski

        I am not worried about posting fact, they have already removed me from job, so currently there is no Master Plumber of Record for DWSD and they are in violation of State Plumbing Codes/Laws, but the state is doing nothing about it because Duggan is being controlled by Lansing, dependent on state dollars and keeping the investors downtown happy. People think because he is white he is different from Kwame but they forget he came from same political machine. What did he do when FBI started investigating Wayne County? He ran for and was elected Prosecutor. When you know where bodies are buried and have dirt on people that is power, he is smarter than Kwame and we will not learn truth for another 20-30 years. There are many good people working for the City of Detroit, Civil Servants that really do care but it is the Elected and Appointed Officials that control the money, where it goes, who gets it. Remember DPS has been under a State of Michigan appointed EM for well over a decade, how has that worked out?

  • javierjuanmanuel

    Its a unique perspective that a fireman can have a vendetta with any substance behind it, if the higher ups are doing their job to a high standard.

    Imagine this:

    fireman off the record to reporter: My boss was late by 2 minutes, twice in the last 4 months.

    Reporter: shocking!

    Public: Thats pretty good.

    Fireman off the record to reporter: The chief sucks, he has only reduced response time by 10%, while cutting costs 7%.

    Public: That sounds pretty awesome, if he can do that three more years in a row, they need to make that dude mayor ! He obviously knows how to manage an organization !

    See a vendetta is just complaints, it means nothing unless the complaints are terrible and are hidden.

  • Cynthia Johnson

    Continue to do your research. Don’t Stop!!

  • bebow

    Paffendorf also said the neighborhoods are worse than ever. He did not lie. It would be helpful to face reality. The denial is dysfunctional.

    • javierjuanmanuel

      I am in detroit all the time so I do know this to be true, but you could just tell by the papers or news.

      If they are not building new, not knocking down the old, people are moving out still, not moving in (3 neighborhoods do not count for squat, net loss each year is huge), pipes are busted, people have tons of illegal hookups (even firemen on the pay roll), and only 25 % of fires are even investigated.

      Hell I could have been raised in the UP, never left the UP and just read the det news with my breakfast. That guy knows its not getting better.

      Its so bad, it cannot get back to the bad times of 1999 for about 20-30 years. People complained like hell in 1999, it will take decades to get back to that.

      • bebow

        They will say anything in an effort to lure the unsuspecting into the city.

  • Donald E. Hodge

    Well now that donations have been banned perhaps it is time to start spending that money on attorneys. sending non-functioning rigs on fire runs is very much illegal. That was covered in the first year of fire science.Sad and pathetic that high ranking officers would do that to the very men that they pretend to care so much about. All of you will answer for this at some point. you can bet that mayor donothing.