Detroit fire commissioner forced out just weeks before Devil’s Night following Muckraker reports

Photo by Steve Neavling.
Photo by Steve Neavling.

Less than three weeks before Devil’s Night, the notorious pre-Halloween tradition of setting houses and buildings ablaze in Detroit, Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins is on his way out.

Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins
Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins

The 30-year veteran of the department met briefly with Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration this afternoon and returned to fire headquarters to notify his staff that he is retiring under pressure, several sources within the Fire Department confirmed today.

“I started in this department as a firefighter at the age of 19 and am grateful that I had the privilege of serving as its Executive Commissioner,” Jenkins said in a statement. “I look forward to spending more time with my family.”

The news comes less than 10 months after Motor City Muckraker launched a one-year project to highlight the systemic problems within the department: Detroit firefighters are forced to work with malfunctioning, outdated equipment; their fire stations are riddled with asbestos and other health hazards; and they’re routinely threatened and harassed for being suspected of leaking news about serious safety violations.

Jenkins often downplayed the problems and criticized our coverage, saying the fleet of defective fire trucks was “up to snuff,” even as rigs continued to break down nearly every day, causing fires to burn longer and cause more damage.

Jenkins’ departure is expected to be part of a larger shakeup at the top of the beleaguered fire department after Mayor Duggan appoints an interim commissioner later this week. Duggan declined to discuss what’s next for the remaining top brass.

“I want to thank Commissioner Jenkins for his 29 years of service to the Detroit Fire Department and the citizens of Detroit,” Duggan said. “The program he started to train Detroit high school students as firefighters and EMTs will benefit the department for years to come. I wish him well in his retirement.”

Deputy Commissioner Craig Dougherty, who is in charge of the defective rigs and outdated equipment, lied to Mayor Duggan’s office last week when he was asked why firefighters’ air bottles were allowed to expire in violation of state and federal safety laws. As a result, 173 of the 420 tanks were taken out of service, leaving many firefighters without an air bottle. Dougherty also has threatened firefighters who were suspected of blowing the whistle on safety violations.

Chief of Fire Operations John King continues to threaten and harass firefighters who he believes are leaking information to Motor City Muckraker about numerous state and federal violations.

And Deputy Commissioner John Berlin has failed to properly train firefighters and is a constant source of low morale.

Firefighters applauded the removal of Jenkins but said full reform isn’t possible until Berlin, Dougherty and King are forced out.

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.

  • banmar

    Let’s hope he stays retired, though I’m sure he’ll put himself out there as a consultant.

  • pops

    Were does Detroit really turn too for truthful honest reporting? It does not exist anywhere. Everyone has a agenda. Including you. Stop your ambulance chasing and get to the root of the issues or can you?

    • javierjuanmanuel

      not sure if you know what ambulance chasing is?

      Thats for trial lawyers, they get sick hurt people to sign their life over and sign bad deals for representation, and also try to bilk the city, county, tax payer, insurance companies and get rich, with gray area scams, acting like they care about the little guy, but their goal is always a 10 million dollar lawsuit that they take half of.

      Then they can do sad face commercials about how they work so hard, and look out for you.

  • pops

    I really think Steve is a drunk liar to be honest.

  • Tom Emm

    Good job ! Thanks steve

  • Reggie Watson

    The vast majority of the fire department’s problems have been shown as equipment problems; because of the lack of money; the lack of money because of the money stolen by Mike Ilitch. The local media has given that pariah so many free passes it’s disgusting.

    • javierjuanmanuel

      police and fire in detroit get tons of money. You can look at other big cities, the last 15 years, we spend often 1.5 times more than much better run cities like atlanta and dallas.

      Now the stuff they have is crap, but the money is being spent.

      Mike illitch did not steal money, it was a trade or a deal. Its bargaining. Do you think cops that retire in 20 years work that still have 15 years they could put in at a desk, or any other city job are “stealing” ? Mind you they did not even have to bargain, someone else does it for them.

      Not hating on cops, just pointing out how if the idea is you the tax payer are not getting the best deal means stealing, then every cop is a thief.

  • Squirtle

    Just curious, what was wrong with this commissioner?

    Under his tenure he drastically brought down EMS response times and was fairly successful in bringing up the neglected livelihood of EMS workers. The first new set of fire engines since who knows when was purchased. He’s finally bringing the DFD into the 21st century by training firefighters medically (albiet at a minimal level).

    He was more successful in progressing the department into the modern era than Don Austin and that guy held his job for years.

    • Donald E. Hodge

      Maybe you should read some of Steve`s reporting before you ask that question. I think you would be amazed.

    • javierjuanmanuel

      That is stuff we should expect. What he neglected was what git him canned. Like air in air tanks, winterizing the fireboat, things non one should suffer like busted pipes, no lights, no toilet paper at the fire house.

      Anyone who leaves the only fireboatbon the river in the ice, with water in the pumps, does not care about tax dollars, or safety.

      I would like to know how or why he was chosen for the top spot !?

    • disqus_vhLozcit3f

      It wasn’t Edsel that did this. Mayoral staff were embedded in the department to get the response times for EMS and fire down to where they are now. And the General Services Department should get credit for taking over fleet maintenance. Any improvements made in the recent past are in spite of, not because of, Edsel Jenkins and the DFD.

    • banmar

      You are kidding, right? Visit any big city fire department with a list of necessities on a rig and then bring that list back to the DPD. You won’t find many of the items checked off on the list.

    • javierjuanmanuel

      No light bulbs, no toilet paper, busted azz old riggs, no air tanks! Its a mess from top to bottom.

      They only investigate something like 25 % of all fires.

  • Donald E. Hodge

    Klan killer, What is the scuttle but from firehouse to Firehouse?

    • Klann Killa

      Haven’t really talked to anyone about it yet, but I’ll keep you plugged. 1 down 3 to go. Gonna go have “breakfast” ? with The Boys, film at 11:00. Peace ✌?️

      • Donald E. Hodge

        Kk,any idea who you and the boys would like to see at the top job?

  • Mikey Jones

    Will the next useless, inept, dishonest bureaucrat with some firematic experience please take your seat!

  • bebow

    Scrape off the top. Let’s investigate to determine what the administrators have been doing all day long. It wasn’t work.

  • Donald E. Hodge

    Hopefully this will be part of a positive overhaul of the Department. More need to follow. King and Dougherty for sure. the time is now to put this proud Fire Department back on its feet.