Video: Detroiters at risk because of chronically malfunctioning fire hydrants

There was little they could do but wait and pray.

As flames tore though an abandoned house on the east side Tuesday night, firefighters scrambled for blocks to find a hydrant with water pressure. They came up empty.

“Oh, God,” Janet Howard said, fearing the spreading flames would devour the entire block of Garland and Canfield, where an arsonist also set a blaze the day before. “Please. Please, God.”

Flames consumed the abandoned house and spread to the next one. On each side of the abandoned homes were occupied ones.

Just before the fire jumped to another house, firefighters found pressure and stopped the flames from spreading.

Low-water pressure is among the many challenges facing firefighters who are battling more blazes without adequate safety equipment, companies and rigs. They also took 10% pay cuts and reduction in benefits.

Persistent budget cuts are posing bigger risks to residents of a city that averages 30 fires a day, many of them arsons.

“It’s only a matter of time before we can show the impact of the cuts with a body count,” a firefighter told me at the scene.

The city said it doesn’t have the money to fix low-pressure fire hydrants, which outnumber properly working hydrants, firefighters said.


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.