muckraker report

Blood on Mayor Bing’s hands? Another fire fatality following station closures

A 71-year-old man with disabilities died in a house blaze Tuesday afternoon in what may have been an avoidable fatality.

This afternoon, two friends of Tom Clark, who was overcome by smoke and couldn’t be resuscitated, stood on the porch of his house with heavy hearts and some anger. They wondered whether their lifelong buddy would still be alive if the administration of Mayor Bing hadn’t closed a fire station, Engine 38, less than a mile away as part of massive budget cuts.

Instead of a 4-minute ride to the burning house, firefighters at the next closest station, Engine 52, were more than 10 minutes away. The national standard for response times in cities is 4 minutes and 2 seconds, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Even Grosse Pointe had a closer station to Clark’s house.

“I understand the city is broke, but you have to provide basic services,” his friend, Ed Brown, told me.”This didn’t have to happen. Not like this.”

At least five people with disabilities have died in fires since Mayor Dave Bing closed up to 15 stations last year, said Dan McNamara, president of the Detroit Firefighters Association. Many more are closed for days at a time. With fewer firefighters and stations, houses are burning for longer and spreading before help arrives.

The poor response times have prompted the fire department to file suit against the city.

“We are handicapped when our leaders ignore the realities that we see every day on the streets of Detroit,” McNamara said. “Public Safety cannot be ignored or compromised. It cannot be measured by income levels or political pull. Public Safety is about everyone in our community receiving equal protection. When leaders compromise the residents they are to protect and represent, the whole system fails.”

Tuesday’s fire appears to have started around 8 p.m. on the second floor, where Clark slept and kept stacks of newspapers and other combustibles. The fire was contained to the second floor, where Clark was found unresponsive.

“He would move very, very slowly,” Brown said. “One step at a time. Or sometimes a half of a foot.”

Clark also used a wheelchair.

Attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.

“If we were there just a little sooner, I think he would be alive today,” a firefighter told me on condition of anonymity, for fear of reprisal. “The fire wasn’t burning for long.”

Neither Bing’s office nor the fire department returned my calls.

The crisis in the fire department is not only endangering lives. Home insurance has skyrocketed in the city and is unaffordable for tens of thousands of residents because of poor emergency services.

Karen Dumas, a former radio show host and appointee of Bing, recently scoffed at the increasing rates.

“Just learned that our homeowner’s insurance increased by nearly $2,000,” Dumas posted on Facebook. “The agent said all insurance companies are adjusting (increasing)their rates in Detroit (already one of if not the highest in the country) as a result of compromised city services, especially fire and police and the increased risk as a result. And, the solution is?”

Unfortunately, officials said, residents will continue to flee because of unaffordable insurance rates and taxes in a city that provides abysmal services.

“It is upsetting that our message is being ignored by the Detroit Fire Department, the city administration and much of the media,” McNamara said. “I know it is not a nice fluffy story but it is about the real life for residents, taxpayers and Fire Fighters of Detroit.”

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.

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  • bebow

    Detroit isn’t merely picking winners and losers. It’s picking livers and diers – the puppet bourgie version of natural selection. All areas of the city aren’t uniformly unserviced. Some areas are serviced, and some are not. If the public had been listening closely, everyone would understand that this arrangement is The Plan. Welcome back to the plantation, y’all. Grab yourselves a hoe. The unselected quarters are out back, and don’t be knocking at the big house’s door.

    • Steve Neavling

      I always love your comments, and this one is no exception. The city is picking who lives and dies. It’s a damn shame and a civil rights disaster.

    • bebow

      Thank you, Steve. I’m just keeping it real from the heart of the ghetto. This human rights offense is calling out for a response. It’s an outrage.

  • Minister Maluj Shabazz

    The disgrace called The Bing Administration continues on

  • Justin

    Detroit is an extreme example of politics affecting public safety but believe me, its everywhere.

  • Pingback: Another fire fatality following station closures « Detroit Fire

  • http://Comcast.net Steve Kirschner

    For many years our city council and the people running this city have either participated in the theft and gross waste of our budget monies or turned a blind eye to it… watching much needed monies earmarked for infrastructure improvements or neighborhood programs be squandered and mismanaged. Now, as the people of Detroit (the few that are left) live with abysmal or no city services, all we hear is “…what can we do, there is no money…”
    We can not accept another needless death of someone’s loved one that could have and should have been prevented. We can not accept these uncaring, “trying to just save their jobs” politicians enacting cuts that imperil the lives and safety of the people and CHILDREN of Detroit. The cuts and policies they are pushing thru are ludicrous and as we see again here today, DEADLY…to the people and to the future of this city. They all try to act like it is not their fault…that the blame belongs to someone else…but nothing can be further from the truth!!!
    I have pulled burnt and unconscious bodies out of fires in Detroit for 35 years. Some had no chance to survive…but people like Tom Clark and Baby Ivory (a fire death a couple summers back) should be breathing and smiling and laughing and playing with their friends and family today…not just a memory to the ones who loved them. SHAME ON ALL OF YOU DETROIT POLITICIANS who allow this to continue to happen. You have been elected and sworn to protect and serve the citizens of Detroit, not needlessly condemn them to an early and painful death. SHAME ON YOU ALL!!!
    Maybe you should enact more cuts until we lose maybe 10 or 15 people to a high rise fire. You have cut the Detroit Fire Dept. to a catastrophic level that we can not properly respond to an incident of this type and save lives. So when the TV news shows people jumping from upper story offices or apartments to avoid being burned to death, WHO WILL YOU BLAME THEN…THE FIRE DEPARTMENT NO DOUBT.

    • DearbornFFson

      Mr. Kirschner Thanks for hanging tough with Detroit. I am ready, even though i dont live in Detroit, to write a letter to the Mayor asking how much he get paid, and every one else from janitor to him self. Then ask him to cut their salary in half and use the money to help the FD and EMS.

      I’m also waiting for the one day when the Mayors house burns down and the firefighters show up longer than normal. He’ll do one of two things. Cut more people out of anger, or realize that trucks are breaking down and you need roughly 4 people per vehicle roughly 8-10 per fire house with a ladder and an engine, and make the effort to get that back.

      The other good idea for this is keep as many stations open, Move the units around. Like lets say E-50′s house has a ladder and the engine, the house nearby is in an are where it could be used between 2 houses (like another engine co.) place just the truck there. and it can run to either area when needed, or it can call for either of the engines. It’s that easy.