Detroit firefighters threatened with discipline for taking donations, talking to media

By Steve Neavling

As the Detroit Fire Department sinks into a deeper funding crisis, placing more lives in danger, Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration is cracking the whip on firefighters who accept donations or speak to the media.

Firefighters were recently told they could be disciplined for blowing the whistle or taking donations, even though many of them are forced to work with malfunctioning rigs and equipment. Fire houses often lack proper plumbing, heating, mattresses and other bare necessities.

Memos were recently posted to remind firefighters about the ban on speaking with the media.

So what’s the penalty for letting the public know how their dollars are – or are not – being spent?

“For a first offense, it could range from a written reprimand to a suspension of up to six days,” Executive Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins told us in a statement.

Mayor Duggan’s administration has become incensed with firefighters for blowing the whistle on dangerously malfunctioning fire trucks and ladders and the failing emergency alert system that forces firefighters to rig a scanner with pop cans to know when they are being called for a fire.

At least one firefighter from Ladder 22 has been threatened with discipline for expressing safety concerns to a reporter. Others said the message has been very clear: Keep the fire crisis quiet.

Mayor Duggan’s administration defended the crackdown, saying the rules have been in place for a long time. Commissioner Jenkins said the department still encourages donations to the Fire Department, but only through the Detroit Public Safety Foundation.

Jenkins sent us this statement:

It has always been City policy for cash or goods donated to the City of Detroit to be reported through City Council.  However, since the Detroit Public Safety Foundation has come into existence, this has given the public safety departments a streamlined way to accept such donations. The DPSF is a 501(c)(3) and acts independently of City government.

Reporting of all donations, whether cash or goods, is being done for transparency and accountability.  City employees should never be in the position of having accepted a donation that later cannot be accounted for.  The Detroit Fire Department is a large organization, and the operations of its fire stations are paramount, including the acts of community groups and individuals that wish to help individual stations.  By engaging City Council or DPSF, the Fire Department Administration can ensure that such individuals or companies are properly acknowledged, and in cases of those seeking tax advantages of making such donations, ensure that those benefits are realized.

If the PSF ever declines to accept a donation the DFD is still able to accept through the City Council process.  Yes, the foundation in some instances receives a percentage of donations as administrative costs, but DFD cannot elaborate on that process.

If we get a donation that is accepted through City Council the timeline varies as a resolution letter is completed, which must also be signed by Budget Director and Finance Director.

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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