Officials: Detroit firefighters shot at while trying to extinguish a blaze

Bullet hole found on a ground ladder for Detroit firefighters. By Steve Neavling.
Bullet hole found on a ground ladder for Detroit firefighters.

By Steve Neavling
Motor City Muckraker

No one knows when it happened, but Detroit firefighters were apparently shot at while at a fire scene after a bullet hole was found on a ground ladder this week.

Technicians made the discovery while inspecting ladders for safety Wednesday for the first time in years.

Fire officials told Motor City Muckraker that the shooting had to have happened at a fire scene because of the trajectory and location of the bullet – about a foot from the base of the ladder on Engine 34. It would be almost impossible for a bullet to strike that part of the ladder if it was on the rig, a fire official said.

“We did an investigation and determined it was at a fire scene, but because the bullet hole was just found, we have no idea where and when it happened,” said Dave Fornell, senior advisor for Fire Commissioner Eric Jones. “The location of the hole and the observed trajectory would indicate that (the ladder) was in use at a fire when the damage was incurred.”

The bullet hole is a stark reminder of the dangers that Detroit firefighters face every day. In 2015, firefighters reported at least two separate incidents in which shots could be heard at the scene of a blaze. Dispatchers warned of another seven shootings prior to firefighters arriving.

Engine 34, which is stationed at Livernois and Walton on the west side, was at two of those fires – one on June 7 and another on Sept. 13.

But fire officials said it’s possible that firefighters never heard the shot and that it could have happened prior to 2015.

“Because of its location on the beam of the ladder, the company could not have readily observed the entry point when they put the ladder back on the rig after the incident,” Fornell said.

Under the former commissioner, Edsel Jenkins, ground ladders were never inspected, despite National Fire Protection Association standards that call for annual testing. It’s unclear when the ladders were last tested because records can’t be found to show when inspections last took place.

That has made it difficult for fire officials to determine when the ladder was punctured by a bullet.

‘Rolling the dice:’ Detroit routinely sends dangerously defective rigs to fires

The good news is, Fire Commissioner Eric Jones, who replaced Jenkins in October 2015, has ordered that all ground and aerial ladders be tested to ensure firefighter safety as part of a massive, successful overhaul of a long-mismanaged Fire Department.

Jenkins was forced to resign after Motor City Muckraker revealed that the former administration routinely violated state and federal laws by failing to provide safe rigs and equipment. 

“When Executive Fire Commissioner Eric Jones took office in October, he immediately initiated programs to bring the apparatus and equipment in compliance with the national standards,” Fornell said. “This testing program was immediately funded and initiated, and as we found out (Wednesday), equipment that did not meet the exact standard was identified and immediately replaced at the shop.”

The ladder with a bullet hole was replaced because of safety concerns.

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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