Editorial: Detroit’s firefighters were abandoned by their union leadership

Photo by Steve Neavling.
Photo by Steve Neavling.

While Detroit firefighters were forced to rely on dangerous, defective equipment and rigs, their union was quiet.

While firefighters were threatened and disciplined for talking to the media, their union was quiet.

And while firehouses were riddled with mold, asbestos and other health hazards, their union was quiet.

This month, Detroit firefighters have an opportunity to elect new leadership of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association. And the slate couldn’t be more capable, driven or principled.

new union2Running to oust the current leadership are Mike Nevin for president, William Harp for vice president, Erik Carrington for secretary and Verdine Day for treasurer. Behind the scenes, these firefighters did more for their brothers and sisters than the current union, which failed to protect their membership from the fallout of a dysfunctional, retaliatory fire administration.

Some of them even risked their jobs. Harp, for example, was disciplined for talking to the media and filing legitimate complaints about serious violations with the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration. On the last day of Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins’ career with the department, his administration tried to fire Harp before the new fire commissioner, Eric Jones, intervened on the firefighter’s behalf.

In a letter to firefighters earlier this year, Robert Shinske, the union’s treasurer, encouraged his colleagues not to speak to the media. And when his colleagues did, he failed to protect them.

“We know that some of our members want to see us in the media, but our current strategy is to only use the media as a last resort,” he wrote as firefighters’ lives were jeopardized by malfunctioning equipment that violated state and federal safety laws.  “Right now the mayor’s office is open and he is listening. One sure way to shut that door is to put a muzzle on his ears to our issues is through media coverage.”

Trouble was, Mayor Mike Duggan’s office was preoccupied with other city services and allowed the dysfunctional fire administration to operate without accountability. The current union leadership even donated $900 to Duggan’s campaign.

Firefighters complained to the mayor’s office about poor training and equipment, but Duggan’s administration didn’t respond because the union leadership refused to take up the issues.

So naturally, firefighters came to the media, eventually placing enough pressure on the mayor to oust Jenkins, the head of the department, just weeks before Devil’s Night.

The Fire Department is now on the right track with the hiring of Jones to replace Jenkins. But firefighters deserve courageous, principled union leadership that can work with the new commissioner and ensure that firefighters have working equipment, safe firehouses and good wages.

Nevin, who is running for union president, has already forged a good relationship with the new commissioner. Nevin understands that a healthy union requires a functional relationship with the administration and a fearless leader to ensure that firefighters get what they deserve.

For these reasons, Motor City Muckraker endorses Mike Nevin for president, William Harp for vice president, Erik Carrington for secretary and Verdine Day for treasurer.

new union

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.

  • Bill

    Here’s a thought for all of you that are essentially arguing about the same thing. Detroit has a Fire Department and group of guys that put their life on the line everytime the answer a call. We all agree that they are well trained and profesional. We also agree that they need updated equipment and support form the city they serve.

    Any more agruments?

  • Bill

    Steve,
    Although I have not agreed with everything you have written, I absolutely agree with the coverage you have provided regarding the Detroit Fire Department. I also agree that Mike Nevin will provide the leadership this Union needs to move forward to provide the City of Detroit with superior fire and medical protection. Keep up the good work, Steve.

  • Charles R. Rice

    Wow Steve, you just gonna let folks run up and campaign on muckraker?
    I’m just one union member, but allow me to say this, I will not vote for any of these individuals. I will not air their dirty laundry, and there are loads. Do some investigating. Just a little, you may be disappointed who you hitched your wagon to.

    • Michael Harper

      As Detroit firefighter/local 344 member I find this article completely unprofessional and utterly ignorant. As i do support a few of the mentioned candidates your publication has lost my support with your skewed “journalistic” approach. Your publication is like Fox News……not real news!

      • muckraker_steve

        I wrote more than 120 stories this year about the poor treatment of firefighters, leading to the forced resignation of the commissioner. The union leadership stood on the sidelines while firefighters were forced to use uncertified equipment. If one editorial in support of new union leadership means I am now like Fox News in your eyes, then so be it. I still have much respect for what you do and wish you the best. You guys deserve better treatment, equipment and wages.

        • Donald E. Hodge

          To be totally honest Steve, I just came to the sight to let people that don`t know that as we speak Smeal Fire Apparatus is building six brand new Rescue Pumpers for the Brothers. hopefully more trucks like some new Tiller rigs will follow.

          • Michael Harper

            Rescue pumpers the membership didnt want.

          • Donald E. Hodge

            Yeah Mike I know. It should be more Pumpers or Ladder Trucks, or Squads. It is like I said to Klan Killer. You can not force someone to do EMT or Paramedic work that does not want to do it. Make it an option at the academy.

          • javierjuanmanuel

            Yes you can force them to, or resign. Its pretty simple.

            Most everyone in the real grown up world has to adopt new things. Guys who never typed had to learn to use computers. People who did everything by hand learned to use cnc machines.

            You are not owed some static job, stuck in 1985, and owed it until you choose to leave.

            Just the opposite, the job changes and if you do not like it, you leave.

          • Donald E. Hodge

            And that is what the Fire Department Did.

          • banmar

            Why?

          • muckraker_steve

            I was surprised the new administration didn’t cancel that contract. If I remember correctly, Smeal was the only bidder because the specs were written in a way to make it impossible for anyone else to bid.

          • Donald E. Hodge

            Gee…..I wonder who is behind that move……Any thoughts?

          • banmar

            Oh lol Lord. Someone in the mayor’s cabinet has a vested interest in Smeal. It’s so tempting (and relatively easy) to write specs for an RFQ like that. I would imagine that the contract wasn’t canceled because Smeal had already begun fabricating the trucks to the city’s specs. Might want to shake them up a little by submitting an FOI for all documents, from the RFQ to the awarding of the contract, the initial design, change orders to design and cost and final cost and design. They have no reason why this information should be withheld, barring a lawsuit. There’s enough Smeal trucks in this country that if a terrorist cell wanted one of these trucks, they could buy a similar Smeal used.

          • Training city employees on the fine art of writing bids tailored to one vendor getting the bid has been going on for decades. During the go-go 80’s at the DWSD, properly writing a bid was raised to an art form. You just wouldn’t believe the different awarded.

          • banmar

            Nice! It’s a good start toward equipping Detroit’s Bravest with the tools they need to continue saving lives and property and to help keep them safe.

        • Donald E. Hodge

          Yeah Steve you are as much like Fox News as Bill Maher is……LOL….

          • javierjuanmanuel

            Even bill maher agrees with fox news on things. Most recently on allot of muslim issues, and allot of things about people on social programs, mostly people on disability and social security.

          • Donald E. Hodge

            As usual you are looking to much into it. The. Bill Maher statement was a joke. No need to reply, just a joke.

      • Donald E. Hodge

        ok, well if it is wrong and unprofessional as you clam? In what way. I mean lets be honest for Christ sake. what did they do? Name one thing?

        • Michael Harper

          Pros and cons genius! I didnt write an article with a broad brush supporting a group, instead of individuals based
          on merit, vision, experience etc… so eat a dick Donald Hodge

          • muckraker_steve

            Let’s keep it civil and refrain from telling people with other opinions to “eat a dick.”

          • Michael Harper

            What opinion did he express other than attacking mine?

          • Donald E. Hodge

            How did I attack You ? I just asked a simple question that you could not answer, so at that point it was time for your Homophobic gene to kick in.

          • Michael Harper

            Lol. Ignorance at its best. ^

          • Donald E. Hodge

            I am not the one who was just bitching about mickey Mouse EMT training. You must not have passed the test. most cities welcome the use of Rescue pumpers.

          • Michael Harper

            Listen up you wanna be miserable fire buff troll! Ive been an EMT for 13 years. Stop making up shit you uneducated troll.

          • Donald E. Hodge

            I have been a Medic for years. and have two Degrees. Maybe some day you could get into the advanced life support class if they can find enough Legos for you to learn with.

          • Michael Harper

            Lol….good one troll! Just keep posting please. We here at the DFD love reading your ignorant posts.

          • Donald E. Hodge

            Well that is good hopefully the next person that gets stuck with you on a run will need more than a band-aid to survive until the real medics get there.

          • Michael Harper

            Lol…Give it a rest troll! Your a idiot! We all know it!

          • Donald E. Hodge

            Ok, Well just don’ t kill anyone tonight with your lack of skills.

          • banmar

            OMG, dude! Either pony up the facts or get off the topic.

          • muckraker_steve

            Michael, please stop with the name-calling and insults. Donald asked you a question, and it resulted in this. I respect your opinion, but I have one rule on the page: No name-calling. If you can’t abide by that simple rule, I’m going to have to ban you from comment, and I don’t like doing that. Clearly you are angry about the endorsement. I get that. But there’s no need to continue bashing other commenters with insults.

          • Michael Harper

            Reread the time line Mr investigative reporter. Its your buddy Donald that started the name calling. Making a antigay Homophobic gene comment. I tried taking the high road and responded with an ignorance at its best comment. Your buddy then continued with false accusations of me making comments about emt training and not being smart enough to pass it. A bold face lie. Obviously you support him and his comments/views since you only call me out, which speaks volumes about you and your publication. I will no longer follow your publication and will be a vocal advocate to my brothers to do the same. FYI: I answered Donalds question. I agree and support a few of the canidates you endoresed. What upset me was your one ticket approach which i viewed as unprofessional. You generically blamed the short coming of the current DFFA executive board as a whole. You forget that this board had to do its job during the biggest municipal bankruptcy in US history. The bankruptcy beheaded act 312. Because of this they negotiated with no teeth and a constant threat of a cram down by a Republican Bankruptcy judge. Do i believe negotions of our current contract could have been better? Maybe. But of all the contracts negotioted between all the other unions i believe we did better than most if not all. It was a lose-lose situation for everyone period. So go ahead and ban me for calling out you and your uneducated minion. I dont care.

          • muckraker_steve

            First off, I don’t know Donald. And I hear your frustrations about the bankruptcy and what that did to the hardworking members of the Detroit Fire Department. Most publications endorse candidates. This is a first for me and will probably be the last. But again, the current union leadership did not protect firefighters from the myriad safety violations. They were quiet about it and encouraged members to be quiet about it. They were too close to the mayor’s administration and will likely get better jobs as a result. I meant no offense by writing this, and still wish you the best. Thanks for your service to the community.

          • Michael Harper

            I appreciate it Steve. You have brought to light a lot of issues we struggle with in the DFD and your articles have made people accountable which has helped us to start to move our department forward. Thank you for that. But when you make political endoresments you enter into a new arena. No matter who wins…. you lose! You risk losing the readers that dont support those people. You become to be viewed as skewed politically and unbiased. Just a suggestion…… if you want to continue to be involved in Local344 politics i suggest you interview all willing canidates. Ask them about their vision, there term goals, the tough questions from all of them, and make them accountable. Then bring it back to your readers to make their own conclusions and endoresments. I wish you all the best and welcome to the game of politics…..

          • muckraker_steve

            I thought he was just asking you a few questions. I really don’t think he was being insulting.