When thieves looted a Detroit fire station last week, they stole more than mattresses, TVs and the kitchen sink.
They robbed thousands of east-side residents of desperately needed fire protection. Ladder 19 was temporarily closed because of budget cuts, but the fire administration said plans to reopen it may have been compromised by the damage.
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“Our intention after our planned hiring of 90 firefighters was to open Ladder 19 as well as other locations to improve fire response to the citizens,” Detroit Fire Department Chief Craig Dougherty told me. “We are investigating our options at this point, after we get a proper damage estimate.”
The thieves busted the walls for copper fixtures and caused other damage.
Last year, Mayor Bing closed seven fire stations – 15 companies in total. Most of those stations were ransacked by thieves because the city had failed to adequately secure the buildings. Now some of them are for sale.
The city plans to hire 90 new firefighters to replace the roughly 140 who have retired since January 2012.
Closed stations aren’t the only targets. Two days after Ladder 19 was looted, thieves stole personal belongings from a west-side station (Engine 40) while firefighters were responding to an emergency call.
Thieves also have targeted firefighters’ cars.
The city is self-insured, and the onus is on firefighters, who just took another 10% pay cut, to replace their belongings and almost anything else that is stolen.
“The only things the city gives us are tables and chairs,” said Dan McNamara, president of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association. “We pay for everything else – pots, pans, TVs, computers. That’s our home.”
In the Ladder 19 break-in, thieves tore apart a kitchen that firefighters had remodeled with their own money.
Life as a firefighter in Detroit is unimaginable. They’re so understaffed that firefighters often find no time for sleep because blazes are constant. Fire trucks and engines are regularly broken down. And hydrants are increasingly in disrepair.
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.