In one afternoon, Detroit firefighters struggle against residents, fires and budget cuts

You’re protecting the public from a fallen electrical wire when a man brandishes a gun.
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Or you’re checking the safety of fire hydrants when a vicious dog chases you. Or after losing your fire station to budget cuts, you are called back because the backyard breaks out in a fire. And while you’re there, you discover thieves have broken into a place you’d considered your second home before this summer’s budget cuts.

It all happened Thursday afternoon, along with two separate fires at the Packard Plant, a mammoth house blaze and a runaway grass fire sparked by a frail power line.

It wasn’t an unusual afternoon for the fire department. Just a typical day in a city where nothing is unusual anymore.

As the city nosedives toward bankruptcy – if the warnings are to be believed – life in the city is going to get a lot tougher. Big cuts to the fire and police departments, along with deep reductions in employee wages and benefits, are creating a dangerous new reality for a city already coping with an upsurge in arsons, murders and joblessness.

And now, as if life couldn’t get worse, Gov. Rick Snyder says he’s getting impatient with the city’s inability to cut more deeply, more quickly.

“No one cares about us,” said Mike Franklin, an unemployed laborer who lives in the only house left on his block on the east side. “People dump their garbage (along the road). They set the houses on fire. No one gives a damn. No one in Lansing worrying about me.”

Imagine how firefighters must have felt after discovering the city couldn’t protect their shuttered station, Ladder 16 at Miller and Concord, from thieves Thursday after two other stations were recently ransacked.

A spray-painted message inside the abandoned building read: “Let it burn.”

Under state pressure, Mayor Dave Bing cut firefighter wages by 10% and weakened their health care benefits.

“I continue to warn the leaders of Detroit that a catastrophe is in the making,” Dan McNamara, president of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association, wrote in an urgent letter to the mayor’s administration. “Our members have, through their dedication and professionalism, stopped some potential catastrophes already but the leaders of Detroit cannot continue to expect this level of service as our ranks continue to thin and more of us are getting seriously hurt.”

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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