Another head rolls as Detroit Fire Department undergoes long-awaited changes

Fire Commissioner Eric Jones, with his son and Mayor Mike Duggan at a press conference. Photo by Steve Neavling.
Fire Commissioner Eric Jones, with his son and Mayor Mike Duggan at a press conference. Photo by Steve Neavling.

Just one day after the Detroit City Council confirmed the appointment of new Fire Commissioner Eric Jones, he wasted no time delivering on a promise to reform the beleaguered Fire Department.

Jones accepted the resignation Wednesday of Deputy Commissioner Craig Dougherty, who has forced firefighters to rely on outdated safety equipment and defective fire engines and ladder trucks. Firefighters complained that he threatened to fire anyone who spoke to Motor City Muckraker about state and federal safety violations under his watch.

Craig Dougherty
Craig Dougherty

Dougherty was responsible for overseeing safety equipment and the fleet of fire rigs and was also featured prominently in the Burn documentary about the challenges facing Detroit’s firefighters.

Jones said he has a replacement in mind.

“I have a very strong, intelligent, capable candidate that I will be having conversations with,” Jones told me at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters on Thursday. “We are under no illusions about the state of the apparatus. We have been plagued with problems. My goal is to eradicate those.”

Mayor Mike Duggan, who was fed up with unaddressed issues in the Fire Department, forced out Commissioner Edsel Jenkins just two weeks before Devil’s Night and replaced him with Jones, a former assistant police chief who turned around the city’s building department.

Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins
Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins

Soon after the appointment, Jones required all of his top brass to re-apply for their jobs and opened up the positions to firefighters and their officers. Their resumes are due on Monday.

More personnel changes are possible, Jones said.

“I know there is hidden talent in this department,” Jones said. “I am going to make my decisions based on those submissions (of resumes). There are going to be interviews and presentations. I fully expect for us to have some candidates who are capable of being in leadership positions.”

Check back for an exclusive interview with the new commissioner.

 

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.

  • Rick kulmann

    Steve you do a great job and i bet all your investigation had a huge part in this.keep up the great work

  • Rick kulmann

    I hope they fix all the issues,they are a great dept i am always buying detroit michigan fire dept sweatershirts & hoodies

  • banmar

    I don’t like Jones’ comment about finding “hidden talent” in the DFD. Seems to me that there’s a lot of rock-star talent that bust their asses and work around the deficient and aged, minimally functioning rigs and dead hydrants and still manage to save as many lives and as much property as humanly and sometimes inhumanly possible.

    I’ve got a search alert for good old Edsel to apply for a consultant or commissioner post here in PA in Chester or Philadelphia and in NJ in Camden, Newark, Paterson or Passaic so I can send my colleagues some of Edsel’s greatest hits from the Muckraker. We have our own homegrown inept fools running fire departments; no need to import one.

    • Darryl Lockett

      Banmar, Jones has publicly said DFD has the best firefighters in the world. He was referring to finding hidden talent for leadership positions not fire fighting positions. He already knows we are the best so let him do his job and support him like he supports us!

      • muckraker_steve

        Jones has a ton of respect for Detroit’s firefighters. Well said. He’s called them the best and bravest in the world. And that’s not an understatement.

      • Klann Killa

        Well said my friend.

      • banmar

        Darryl, I think I misworded my comment. What I meant was there’s some serious leadership talent in the ranks, and I hope that outsiders aren’t brought in to fill those leadership roles.

  • Joshua

    Way to go Steve. Not sure where credit is due but can’t help but think that your diligent reporting had some role to play in all of this. Gets me going to hear that he’s opening up leadership positions to the very firefighters that were threatened for whistleblowing.

    • banmar

      The way things are going with Gannett, sites like the Muckraker are going to be the only places you can get real reporting about serious issues. Gannett just let a whole bunch of columnists go for “early retirement” at the Asbury Park Press and shunted more of their reporters to independent contractors. They’re filling in the holes with reporting from USA Today and it’s stupid stuff. There’s maybe four or five local pieces worth reading a day, which is why I only get the online version.

      • muckraker_steve

        I worked for the Free Press, another Gannett paper, and it took me a good year or two to unlearn all of the bad habits I was taught. It’s really a shame what’s happening to newspapers under Gannet’s control.

  • bebow

    He’s really throwing the door wide open in the selection process.

  • larence

    Fighting fires like you always did, leaves the department 50 years behind modern techniques. I have the utmost respect for Detroit Firefighters, but being the busiest does not necessarily make you the best. Better equipment and techniques will keep the firefighters safest in the one of the most dangerous professions.

    • Klann Killa

      Thanx for the advice ? What “modern techniques” do you speak of? A new way to watch a structure burn to the ground? What department do you work for? I took an oath to be a “FIREFIGHTER”, not a “Fire-watcher.” I hope you don’t believe what you say. I would much rather have “the busy guy” work on my transmission, or my heart for that matter, as opposed to the guy that only gets “a couple” of jobs a year. Experience, and repetition is why we’re “The Best” at what we do. Bar none son!!!! I saw your little “attempted knock” at DFD, but seriously, who would you rather have come if your family depended on it? You’s guys? Or us GUYS? I would put 4 of our worst guys/girls on an engine, truck, or squad, and they would run circles around any department IN THE COUNTRY, GUARANTEED!!!! We fight fires with balls in the “D”. ? ?

      • Donald E. Hodge

        I was thinking a moment ago, wondering how long it was going to take you to set things right my brother.?

        • Klann Killa

          You KNOW I had to straighten him up. LOL? Peace ✌?️

          • Donald E. Hodge

            You going to throw your hat in the ring for promotion KK, or is that not your bag??

          • Klann Killa

            Nah. Not my thing, I LOVE putting them out way too much. Not a “cubicle”kinda guy. ? Peace ✌?️

          • Donald E. Hodge

            That is what I thought you would say?. Your also very honest. That tends to scare bosss.

      • banmar

        And how you guys get things done with the meager dollars and aged equipment is beyond amazing.

        • Klann Killa

          Much appreciated. Like I was telling Mr. “50 years behind modern techniques”, repetition breeds experience. Peace ✌?️

      • larence

        Klann Killa I am sorry you completely misunderstood my comment. What fire department did I work for? Detroit Fire Dept. as a third generation in my family. I made the personal choice to accept an offer at another department with better pay, benefits, retirement and no residency, I do not regret that decision nor my retirement after 30 years. While every department feels they are the best (after all we are one brotherhood) I doubt New York’s Finest, the Jakes in Boston or the guys in the big windy sit around their fire station talking about how great the guys are at the DFD. I am glad you have pride in your department and career, but unless you have over 30 years on the job, I assure you I have been to more DFD funerals than yourself. As far as cardiac surgery or my transmission, I would prefer the best trained and most qualified. Do be honest, doing things the same ways and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. Let me state I have the utmost respect for the DFD and the men and women on the front lines everyday. That being said, lets talk about the funerals. An engineer not wearing his seatbelt and being thrown from his rig and killed is preventable. That drivers lieutenant hitting the windshield without his seatbelt and ending his career is preventable. How many good men have to die because of poor training and outdated tactics? Getting on a roof with an axe when it has self vented ten feet away is dangerous and unnecessary. Knowing the difference between a rescue and a body recovery can save lives. I knew Larry McDonald, before Lt. Lau took over at 26 my relative was Larry’s officer. My history with the city and the department runs deep, I was born in Detroit. My experience through the years at both departments taught me many things, but please don’t think DFD has the market cornered on the worlds best firefighters. I know the difference between a dry and wet house in the D. I had to sneak out and bring beer back as part of my probation, do they still do that? One of the reasons I left is because two guys in my station thought doing a line of coke on shift was OK. I was at the retirement party where the off duty guy thought it would be fun to hide the ladder around the corner from the bar, and then wrecked it drunk. How many other cities have had their ladder hit by a train because it was left parked on the tracks? Hit the red books, get a fire science degree and make a positive impact on the DFD. Hopefully the city will provide the hard working members of the DFD with better equipment and training to be the very best. Wishing you safety and success throughout your career.

        • Donald E. Hodge

          What Fire Department did you retire with?

          • larence

            Just a little north, we ran ambulances and fought fires. One big brotherhood of hose draggers having each others back. That being said, a department is either moving forward or backward, leadership steers the ship. I sincerely hope that DFD is on the rise, mad respect for all they do.

          • Donald E. Hodge

            Boy larence, you really you took me back when you said Larry McDonald, man that was a terrible day of sadness in the Detroit Fire Department. one of the largest fires in the city- EVER. Well you have been around.It must have been real hard for you to leave Detroit, with your history and all. Klan Killer didn`t mean any harm. I just think he Loves everything about being a Detroit Firemen , which is more than honorable because he looks out us so I know you understand him. The same for myself when people talk smack about Medics. I would love to get the two of you together for story night. we would most likely be there till dawn, and a little drunk maybe. thanks to the both of you for your service to the City of Detroit and us. most folks I think don`t really know what that is to be a Detroiter.

          • larence

            I am sure we would have a good time. Brothers through and through.

        • notasdumbasulook

          Let’s get something straight, you’re not my brother. Anyone who is going to blast my department about drinking(never saw coke), can kiss my ass! I never drank, not my thing, but people are alive now because of the actions of some firefighters that did. I certainly do not condone it, but I understand. Drinking is currently non-existent.
          Talk about training! Have you ever had a gun pulled on you at a fire? How many dead babies(burnt) have you held? Do you know the smell of a dead burned body? How many tanker fires have you had? Ever had 5 rollover accidents in 1 day? How many fires have you had above the 20th floor? Ever had 9 structure fires in 1 day? We use interior attack, because the houses are 10 ft apart. I personally don’t think giving a university $30,000, or your “red” book will make the world all better. I’ve trained with the suburbs in extrication and EMT. I hate to break it to you, it’s not brain surgery. Common sense(and calm) is the best firefighting tool there is. I was on the scene with the engineer and Lt… Did you know the Tahoe that hit them was going over 100 mph in a 30 mph zone? Parking a rig on a live railroad track is just plain stupid. But if you take into consideration that the city lost over 1 MILLION PEOPLE! and the thousands upon thousands of fires, the amount of death and injury on the DFD is pretty good. Our fire numbers are nearly three times that of New York… per capita.
          I hate the education argument. Contrary to what you think, Detroit has many educated firefighters. Not only in fire. Engineers, Nurses, Business owners, Teachers, Therapist and other professions. They chose to work in Detroit because they had a passion for firefighting. I live in the posh suburbs that you speak of… I wish DFD could respond to my house.

          • larence

            I never blasted the DFD, quite the contrary, I have many relatives who worked full careers there. I answered a question about my experience over thirty years ago. I have complete respect for the men and women of the DFD and the difficult job they face everyday. I hope conditions improve for the firefighters and they have the tools they need to do the job. Peace out.

          • Donald E. Hodge

            For Gods sake Larence, what did you say to get the Boys all worked up! its cool man I`m just playing with you. Notso happyasheis was just another Detroit Fireman holding up the Departments image because they were left for the better part of two to three decades with bad everything Equipment wise. But what they did have is Beautiful human beings in the rank and file to hold it all together I think he`s a Lt. or Captain Retired that is but he won`t share that info. will ya big guy. sounds like a dude you would want with on a 2 alarm blaze though. I need to take you guys out for Beers man. I think there is a lot of miss understanding going on right now. take care and Love life.

        • banmar

          Have you asked a firefighter from another large metropolis what they think about Detroit firefighters? I’ve asked two NYC firefighters, the husbands of my friends from when I worked in the city, and they had mad respect; they’re not sure they could do it. And I’ve talked to both careers and vols in our mutual aid network here in Sandyland if they could do it, and they said probably, for a while, but they didn’t know for how long. One of my guys here, a volunteer who left the Jersey City department to become a state trooper, said that when your working environment and tools are as tough as they are in Detroit, and having had asshats like Edsel Jenkins more concerned with image than reality, you have firefighters who know and have accepted that there is a higher-than-normal chance of them dying in order to save a life, what you get are firefighters who rely on the basic skills learned at the academy and on the job honed to the point where they become instinctual.

          As for the truck wrecked on the tracks, I’m not excusing it, because it was stupid, irresponsible and immature, but the percentage of these types of acts is miniscule.

          The impression I get is that the culture at DFD was not a good fit for you and smartly, you found one that is, and I’m sure your department is happy to have you. Just don’t paint every DFD firefighter with the guys leaving expensive trucks on train tracks or doing drugs at work. Every large company or metropolitan city government department has these assholes in them.

  • James Agee

    long as the department don’t let property burn down while this shift in power continue’s to play out…it will be for the better…