Single arson drained fire resources for entire east side of Detroit; budget cuts endangering lives

fire_9962_editJamie Hinton got a heart-stopping text early this morning about her childhood home of 49 years.

“Somebody set the house on fire on the boulevard,” her friend texted at 1 a.m.. “Don’t waste your times. It’s a super fire.”

Hinton was staying with family while saving money to fix pipes at her lifelong home on East Grand Boulevard at Lafayette.

“All our belongings are still in the house; that’s probably why it’s burning like that,” she told me as enormous flames tore through the roof and windows. “We just boarded it up. Makes no sense.”

Last week, a fire gutted a house across the street.

Because of station closures and malfunctioning trucks, firefighters from as far as 12 minutes away were called to help this morning. That left one station – one of the busiest in the city – with the responsibility of covering the entire east side, which averages five to 10 fires a night.
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When the blaze broke out, the closest station was unavailable because of temporary, rotating closures called brown outs. The second closest ladder truck was in the repair shop for brake problems.

“It’s a damn mess,” a firefighter told me at the scene. “I wouldn’t expect a third-world country to operate like this. And they say it’s only going to get worse.”

As Gov. Rick Snyder announces plans today to take over the city’s finances, the state will be responsible for Detroit’s public safety crisis.

“Just like Colin Powell told Bush, if you go in Iraq, you own it,” NAACP Detroit Branch President Wendell Anthony said.  “Once you put the emergency manager in, you own it.”

I asked the governor last week how he intended to handle the public safety crisis.

“We have to take look at ways to do things more cost-effectively,” he said.

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Steve Neavling is an investigative journalist, a freelance reporter for Reuters and former city hall reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Living on the city’s east side, Neavling explores corruption 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.

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