New Detroit fire commissioner protects whistleblower from punishment

Without water pressure, Detroit firefighters could do little but watch a house burn down on the east side. Photo by Steve Neavling.
Without water pressure, Detroit firefighters could do little but watch a house burn down on the east side last week. Photo by Steve Neavling.

Detroit firefighter William Harp was harassed and intimidated for months after launching complaints that the fire administration was violating state and federal safety laws by forcing firefighters to rely on dangerous, outdated equipment and asbestos-riddled firehouses.

On Friday, the last day of Executive Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins’ career with the Fire Department, his administration filed three charges against Harp and recommended his termination.

His charges? Discrediting the Fire Department by “deliberately and maliciously” making statements to the media “to mislead and create fear in both citizens and other Fire Department personnel.”

What Harp actually did was bring attention to the fact that firefighters were forced to use uncertified air bottles in violation of state and federal safety laws. As a result, the city took the air bottles out of service and quickly tested them before returning the ones that passed inspections, making firefighters safer.

When new Executive Commissioner Eric Jones heard about the charges against Harp on Friday, he quickly ordered them to be rescinded, an early indication that he won’t tolerate the climate of intimidation and fear that was allowed to fester in the past administration.

Among Jones’ many challenges is restoring morale among firefighters who have been threatened and harassed. Some of those officials –deputy commissioners Craig Dougherty and John Berlin and Chief of Fire Operations John King – are still on the job.

But next month, Jones is expected to begin building a new administration.

“We plan to have an administration that supports the firefighters and the EMTs,” Jones said last week at a press conference announcing his appointment. “In November, there’s going to be an evaluation process” for choosing the next administration. “We need to look at a merit-based system.”

Jones is a former assistant police chief who was appointed by Mayor Mike Duggan last year to lead the city’s troubled Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department (BSEED).

Related: Mayor Duggan sets Fire Department on right track with outside-the-box appointment

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

    KK, Do you work at one of the Firehouses that was lucky enough to get one of the new Pumper Trucks?

  • Eric Watts

    HEY STEVE….MAYBE ONE DAY YOU WILL SIT DOWN WITH ME AND GET THE TRUTH ABOUT BOTH OF THOSE KNUCKLEHEADS!!! BEEN ON THE JOB 25 YEARS AND KNOW THE TRUTH

  • Eric Watts

    AND WHISTLEBLOWERS? OMG!!!! NOW THAT IS FUNNY!!!

  • Eric Watts

    I STAND BY MY WORDS

  • Eric Watts

    WHY DID YOU TAKE MY COMMENT DOWN? THAT ONE WAS A THIEF AND THE OTHER WAS A CRY BABY?

  • Eric Watts

    OH BY THE WAY,,,, THEY BOTH KNOW WHERE I RUN

  • Eric Watts

    LOL… I SEE THAT YOU STEVE IS IN MIKE NEVIN AND BILL HARP POCKETS lol TOO FUNNY ONE IS A THIEF AND THE OTHER IS A CRY BABY

  • Mikey Jones

    Outstanding! I may find it in my heart to become slightly hopeful that positive change is on the horizon.

  • Donald E. Hodge

    Thank you Commissioner Jones. It appears that the mayor has found a Great man for the Job of building a new and stronger Fire department. I can hardly wait to see the next faze of change. Good Luck Sir.

  • bebow

    Well, now we know something about what the DFD’s former administrators were doing all day on the job. Edsel Jenkins spent his final hours getting vindictive. How much time was burned on that effort? We need a dollar figure to make the lesson meaningful.

    • Donald E. Hodge

      It just go`s to show you what a looser Blow hard Jenkins truly was as commissioner. Worthless Asshole to the end.

  • Captain Dave Nelson EMS

    Good article! Well done Firefighter William Harp, and “kudos” to Executive Commissioner Eric Jones in seeing past the intimidation tactics of the past administrators!