New fire commissioner gets tough, requires top brass to re-apply for their jobs

Commissioner Eric Jones. Photos by Steve Neavling.
Commissioner Eric Jones. Photos by Steve Neavling.

Determined to clean up the dysfunctional culture within the top ranks of the Detroit Fire Department, interim Fire Commissioner Eric Jones has required his top brass to re-apply for their jobs if they want a position in his administration.

Jones, who was appointed last week by Mayor Mike Duggan, also invited firefighters and officers to vie for the top jobs, which include deputy fire commissioner, second deputy fire commissioners, chief of fire operations, deputy fire chiefs, senior chiefs, fire marshal and chief fire investigator, among others.

“I am extending the opportunity to members of all ranks of the DFD/EMS to compete for these positions subject to the collective bargaining agreement,” Jones wrote in a bulletin to all fire employees.

Recent fire on the east side where firefighters had no water pressure.
Recent fire on the east side where firefighters had no water pressure.

Jones, a former assistant police chief who turned around the city’s troubled Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department (BSEED), said he wants the most qualified people to run the beleaguered department, which has been unable to equip firefighters with basic equipment.

The move has been welcomed by firefighters, many of whom have been bullied by management for speaking out about growing concerns over safety violations, including asbestos-riddled firehouses, uncertified air bottles, untested aerial ladders and defective fire trucks.

Last week, Jones protected a whistleblower from being disciplined under the old regime.

Just weeks before Devil’s Night, the notorious pre-Halloween tradition of setting houses and buildings ablaze in Detroit, Duggan forced out Commissioner Edsel Jenkins and replaced him with Jones, a bold move intended to shake up the department.

Described as hard-nosed but affable, Jones is widely considered to be among the brightest and most driven of Duggan’s administration. And so far, firefighters said, Jones has impressed.

To find the best candidates for the top jobs, Jones is requiring applicants to answer a series of questions about the department and submit resumes and a biography.

“The candidates with the best submissions will move to the next phase,” Jones said.

Tri-Data, a group of public safety consultants, criticized the Fire Department earlier this year for “profoundly weak management and supervisory practices that are deeply ingrained into the fire department culture.”


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.