Strong winds left Detroit without adequate fire protection

FireDTE Energy was so overwhelmed by the overnight winds that firefighters in Detroit were forced to wait for hours for crews to arrive as power lines sparked or snaked across dark streets.

That vastly diminished the fire department’s ability to respond timely and adequately to house fires, causing some blazes to burn longer and cause more damage.

The Motor City Muckraker staff monitored all 116 fire calls from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., finding that some fire crews took more than 34 minutes to reach fire scenes because of the inundation of calls. At 4:30 a.m., for example, the city had no available trucks to replace Engine Co. 55 when it was running desperately low on fuel. That meant firefighters were seriously understaffed until the rig could fill up and reach the scene.

Firefighters responded to at least 68 downed power lines and 10 structure fires between the six-hour period, according to our count.

By 2:20 a.m., DTE was so far behind that it could no longer give firefighters an ETA.

“It was a very challenging storm,” DTE spokeswoman Randi Berris told me. “It took some time to dispatch the crews.”

When the sun rose, trees and power lines were toppled across the city.

Just after 8:30 a.m., a 14-year-old boy was walking in a field near Burns Elementary School when he was nearly electrocuted to death by a downed power line. It’s unclear whether DTE knew about the line. 

“We are still trying to figure out the timeline for that,” Randi Berris told me.


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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