Firefighter’s serious injuries elicit cold response from commissioner

Firefighter injured on CheneAnneatra Kaplan rushed to the hospital where her husband, a Detroit firefighter, was severely injured when chunks from the facade of a burning party store collapsed on him and a fellow firefighter on the east side.

The last thing she wanted to hear was news about the budget. Her husband, Vincent Fields, had suffered head, back, shoulder and leg injuries in late May. As doctors tended to Fields, from Engine 17, fellow firefighters poured into the hospital to show their support.

But in the chaos, Fields ended up alone with Fire Commissioner Donald Austin, who offered no condolences and instead bemoaned the budget crisis and the cost of caring for injured firefighters, Kaplan wrote to a fire official this week.

“His entire conversation with me was concerning the failing budget, justifying his decisions about helping the deficit within the fire department, the detailed cost of clothing for each firefighter, as well as the cost of accommodating the injured during hospitalization,” Kaplan said.

It’s a common complaint against Austin – that he’s done nothing to improve the morale or safety in the department, that he’s not resisted 10% pay cuts to firefighters who are forced to respond to more blazes, that he’s rarely spoken out when someone is injured or killed and that he’s allowed fire stations to fall into disrepair.

“I was so outraged that his first and only words to me were concerning the budget and cost to run the department,” Kaplan said.
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“The discussion was totally inappropriate and showed a lack of compassion for the fire fighters that put their lives on the line daily to protect the citizens.”

Over the past year, Austin has declined interview requests by the Motor City Muckraker and only responds via e-mail, which first must be approved by the mayor’s office.

Here is a video of the fire that injured Fields.

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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