New Detroit Fire Commissioner Jones promises ‘a new day’ for beleaguered department

Detroit Fire Commissioner Eric Jones. Photo by Steve Neavling.
Detroit Fire Commissioner Eric Jones. Photo by Steve Neavling.

Less than two hours after the Detroit City Council confirmed the appointment of Eric Jones to lead the beleaguered Fire Department, flames were ripping through an occupied 48-unit apartment building on the west side.

“We got people trapped,” a firefighter radioed in a month ago today.

Wasting no time, Jones headed to the scene of the third-alarm blaze, where he learned three firefighters were injured, one with serious burns. Jones only stayed briefly because he wanted to check on the injured firefighters at the hospital.

“They put their lives in jeopardy, knowing full well they might not get back out of the building,” Jones told me in an exclusive interview at public safety headquarters. “What more can you say?”

A former assistant police chief who turned around Detroit’s troubled building department, Jones is a compassionate but tough leader. He makes no excuses and has no tolerance for mismanagement.

Just a month into the job, Jones has wasted no time cleaning up what consultants called a “cover-up culture” in the mismanaged fire department. A day after the council approved his appointment, Jones forced the resignation of Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Dougherty, who failed to provide firefighters with safe, certified equipment and rigs.

In an unprecedented move, Jones required all of his top brass to reapply for their jobs and opened the positions to firefighters and their officers.

“It’s a new day,” said Jones, whose son is a firefighter. “I never thought I’d get a new calling.”

Jones knows the challenges are steep.

“We are under no illusions. We have been plagued with problems.
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But under my watch, my goal is to eradicate those problems swiftly.”

Jones is expected to announce new leadership in the near future after taking dozens of applications for the top brass jobs and conducting interviews.

One worry Jones doesn’t have is the dedication and skill of the firefighters and EMS workers.

“They are heroes – the bravest, most courageous, dedicated individuals I’ve ever met,”Jones said. “Since I’ve gotten here, I’ve seen nothing but bravery. I am honored and awed and humbled just watching them.”

With few exceptions, firefighters have welcomed the new commissioner and placed faith in his ability to create a better fire department with safe, certified equipment and rigs.

“Jones has demonstrated he is a straight-forward administrator,” Detroit Fire Fighters Association President Mike Nevin told us for a recent story. “I look forward to working with Jones and hope the ‘same ole, same ole’ days are over. The public expects that. Firefighters deserve that.”

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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