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muckraker report

Elderly woman’s house burns for 21 minutes before strapped Detroit Fire Department responds

There was little she could do but watch her house and life possessions burn away as she waited 21 minutes for Detroit fire fighters to arrive Saturday night.

What started as a small, manageable fire in her basement turned into a raging blaze that destroyed her home near Southfield and 8 Mile.

That’s because the closest available company – Engine 33/Ladder 13 – was 18 miles away.

“The house was totally engulfed when we arrived, and it had started with a small fire in the basement,” firefighter Ted Copley said. “An old lady now has nothing. Epic fail by the city.”

The national standard for response times in cities is 4 minutes and 2 seconds, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Fires are burning longer and becoming more destructive because Mayor Dave Bing’s administration has closed 15 stations in the past 18 months, and nearly as many are closed each night as part of temporary closures called “brown outs,” said Dan McNamara, president of the Detroit Firefighters Association.

Cople said his crew passed “God knows how many closed or browned out firehouses” enroute to Saturday’s blaze.

“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.”

Less than a week ago, a disabled man died in his east-side house after firefighters took two times the national standard to respond because the closest two fire stations were closed.

The budget cuts – $184 million to $160 million – come in the midst of an arson crisis that is tapping resources.

Detroit Fire Commissioner Don Austin, who has drawn scorn from firefighters, said Bing’s administration is doing everything it can to improve the situation in spite of the city’s budget problems.

“Mayor Bing has made public safety a top priority for the City of Detroit,” Austin said. “The city’s financial crisis has not prevented the Mayor from finding resources to provide proper fire protection for Detroit neighborhoods. In the past year alone, we secured $28.1 million in FEMA grants that provided two years of salaries and benefits for Detroit firefighters. That prevented 108 firefighter layoffs and allowed us to rehire 26 firefighters. An additional $1.75 million from FEMA, combined with $900,000 in City funds, paid for new protective gear for two-thirds of our firefighters.”

Got tips or suggestions? Contact Steve at sneavling@gmail.com.

Steve Neavling is an investigative journalist and former city hall reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Living on the city’s east side, Neavling explores corruption, civil liberties and the underbelly of an oft-misunderstood city.

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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.

  • http://YAHOO.COM john

    why aren’t they addressing the problem // isn’t staffing the main issue // i hate to say this but it’s time to get volunteers in there to supplement the career force i’t that simple

  • Mindi

    The title is a bit misleading don’t you think? DFD WAS responding,,…from 18 miles away. The title makes it sound like they were sitting on their thumbs before deciding to go in.

    • Tony R

      No Mindi its not misleading the first arriving fire company came from grand river and trinity a ladder truck company with no means of extingushing the fire ladder trucks do not carry fire hose. The first fire engine which carries hose came from I-75 and springwells area then the second fire engine came from downtown behind the fox theatre. As far as sitting on our thumbs that doesn’t happen at any firehouse in the city the bell goes off and we are out the door in under 2 minutes

  • Sandi Williams

    Where is the OUTRAGE ??????? Why is that a scandal or hienious crime is covered all over the TV but something of this magnitude can be swept under a rug !!! It’s wonderful that Bing got millions to pay the firemen . But what are they supposed to do , p— on the flaming houses? of course they are raging when you wait 20 minutes !!!!

    • Steve Neavling

      I’ve been wondering too where the outrage is. How many people need to die or lose their home?

  • TONY R.

    I have been a Detroit Firefighter for 21 years and what has happened to my once proud department is a shame. We as firefighters can only watch as the people in charge of the department decide the fate of the citizens with a calculator. The fire commisioner Don Austin has made it clear to us that his budget is whats important our union went to him with a plan to save the city 26 million dollars while only closing 6 fire companies as opposed to his plan of 15 fire companies closed and 10 more a day closed/browned out which by the way only saved 21 million dollars. We firefighters understand the city is cash strapped but we also understand that in our line of work the old cliche every second counts is absolutely true. We arrive on scenes now after going on runs of 8 10 sometimes 12 miles or more and instead of a bedroom or kitchen fire the whole house is ablaze and the citzens are screaming at us we called 20 minutes ago and we have no answers for them and for us its like sticking a dagger into our hearts, because there is nothing we can do. If you happen to have a fire in your house in Detroit before you get mad at the firefighters that respond you might want to ask them how far they came toget there

    • Steve Neavling

      Tony, thanks for the thoughtful response. I’ve been covering the fire department closely for awhile now, and I can’t get over how talented and fast Detroit’s firefighters are. There’s a reason the department is known nationally for its quality firefighters. Unfortunately the administration is making it tough for firefighters to do their jobs. Now we’re seeing people die and insurance rates driving our residents. We appreciate your service, Tony. God bless.

  • Kelly

    Thanks to the documentary “BURN” many people are now aware of the crisis in Detroit. I just cannot come to believe that this is going on. I know my fellow brothers and I will do our best to help and spread the word …God Bless Detroit

  • Monica Conyers

    Malik Foschizzle Shabazz is getting his wish, the City is burning down.

  • bebow

    Steve, what’s happening in the neighborhoods requires national exposure. We are witnessing a passive-aggressive state and local government sponsored pogrom aimed at working class and impoverished Detroit residents. Perhaps you’re best qualified to get that done. You’re the only one who seems to think the issue is worth mentioning.

    • Steve Neavling

      Bebow, I appreciate the encouragement. Sometimes I just shake my head in frustration. And I agree about the Detroit works in action. I’m working on a story that shows the administration has browned and blacked out fire stations that are in Bing’s dead zones. For whatever reason, the administration doesn’t understand that those “dead zones” are home to people who can’t afford to move. They are stuck in a dangerous, dying neighborhood. Very scary situation.

    • bebow

      The story is bigger than a fire service issue. Bing announced fire station closures to deliberately cause insurance companies to double our rates and attempt to economically force us out. The city won’t divulge the number of police on the payroll, but it isn’t shy about mentioning the number of firestations closed? The police have been removed from the neighborhoods, setting off violent lawlessness, and those police are standing around downtown. The city is assessing property in unserviced neighborhoods at 5 times the true value and stands in contempt of Michigan Tax Tribunal orders to correct assessments and refund overpayments. There is no demolition taking place in the neighborhoods, and the destruction exceeds belief. Some of the blighted, dangerous properties are actually owned by the city. The same bourgies who stole and wasted Detroit’s assets until nothing was left are the same parties driving these negative actions against the population whose votes carried them into office. The state and local indifference to the Third World conditions and the daily massacre is shocking. The indifference to what is clearly a POGROM is outrageous. Go big, Steve.

  • Minister Malik Shabazz

    It is a disgrace B 4 GOD!!!!

    • bebow

      It’s Detroit Works in action.