muckraker report

21 cars burn in Detroit, many left to smolder in streets, in past 24 hours

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More than 20 cars burned Sunday and early Monday in Detroit, and most of them were left smoldering in the middle of the snowy road or on a sidewalk because police weren’t available.

Without an officer, the city’s policy is to leave burned-out cars alone until police or the car owner orders a tow truck, firefighters were told Sunday night. In some cases, vandalized cars were left unattended for more than six hours.

The slow responses times are nothing new in a city struggling to get a grip on crime. With a woefully understaffed police department, officers must respond to the most urgent crimes.

The 21 fires occurred between 5 a.m. Sunday and 5 a.m. today, according to our review of dispatch records. It’s unclear whether any of the car-burnings were related. Most of the fires were suspicious, with cars found burning in streets, sidewalks and driveways.

Fire-DepartmentBecause of the snow and busy night, the average response time for firefighters was 7 minutes and 40 seconds – about twice the national average for urban fire departments. 

Engine Co. 50 took about eight-and-a-half minutes to reach a car fire at 3:20 a.m. at 17834 Runyon. The blaze spread to the house and required two engines and a truck to extinguish.

Mayor Mike Duggan took control over the fire department last week and plans a smarter, data-driven approach to fighting fires. Among his first moves was hiring new Fire Commissioner Jonathan Jackson, a native Detroiter and 25-year veteran who most recently was the second deputy fire commissioner.

The challenge will be reducing EMS response times, upgrading faulty equipment and cracking down on the arson epidemic.

The Motor City Muckraker has been examining the fire department over the past year, revealing poor leadership, an inadequately staffed department and firefighters who are forced to work without safe, maintained trucks and engines.

Firefighters’ wages have been cut 10%, arsons were drastically underreported and seven fire stations were permanently closed as part of a $24-million reduction in the department’s budget.  Most of those stations have since been broken into and stripped for scrap metal.

We’ll continue to monitor fires all year as part of our extensive look at the city’s struggle to provide adequate public safety under daunting financial challenges.

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.

  • ABoleynGirl

    I think there’s an old French expression: “Cherchez la dough” – Look for the money. I have long thought that arson was a crime perpetrated primarily for profit. Okay, could be excitement….