Finally! Detroit Fire Department to buy new aerial ladder trucks, squads, pumpers

Photo by Steve Neavling.
Many of the city’s aerial ladder trucks are aging and in bad shape.

The Detroit Fire Department has been in desperate need of fire trucks for years.

Finally, relief is on the way.

Just days after Motor City Muckraker reported that the purchase of the rigs had become entangled for months in bureaucratic delays, the city gave the Fire Department the green light to begin accepting bids for new rigs this month.

Beginning early next year, the city expects to receive five aerial ladder trucks, six rescue squads, five pumpers, four arson vehicles and five response vehicles.

“We are going to have first-class rigs on the street,” Deputy Fire Commissioner Dave Fornell said.

Money to buy the new rigs comes from a $120-million “quality of life” bankruptcy loan.

The Fire Department’s fleet is aging, unreliable and prone to mechanical failures. A Motor City Muckraker investigation last year revealed that the Fire Department was sending dangerously defective rigs to fires.

The problems continued this week when an aerial ladder overheated at a second-alarm blaze Thursday morning.

“We still have a long way to go, but we’re starting to turn a corner,” said Mike Nevin, president of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association. “The rigs are desperately needed.”

Ladder 31 gets towed away.
Ladder 31 gets towed away.

Earlier this month, Motor City Muckraker reported that the purchase of the rigs was tied up in a committee created by Mayor Mike Duggan. When the mayor learned of the delays, he quickly sprang to action. Less than a week after our report, the Fire Department was given permission to seek bids for the rigs.

The Fire Department received 10 new engines last year, and an additional six pumpers are expected to arrive in late July or early August. The Fire Department also is reviewing bids for 14 new ambulances.

Fires have been burning longer and causing more damage because of chronic problems with some of the fleet.

Until about two years ago, the city failed to perform routine maintenance on the fleet, causing significant mechanical problems, according to TriData, a national public safety consulting firm, which analyzed the Fire Department during the bankruptcy.

“There is an unacceptable lack of activity in the shop,” Tri-Data wrote, adding that repairs “are either put off again and again, or never addressed at all” because of a “palpable sense of low morale and disincentive from some personnel, which may be attributed to years of operational dysfunction.”

The good news is, the city has increased the speed of repairs, is performing preventative maintenance and has certified 12 of the 13 frontline aerial ladders since Eric Jones became fire commissioner in October, Fornell said.

Detroit Fire Commissioner Eric Jones.
Detroit Fire Commissioner Eric Jones.

Nevin said the new fire administration is working closely with the union to ensure firefighters have most of the equipment they need.

“The past administrations didn’t have their shit together,” Nevin said. “It was beyond deplorable.”

But since Duggan replaced former Commissioner Edsel Jenkins with Eric Jones, firefighters said the department has vastly improved and is far quicker to respond to problems.

“We have a really good commissioner now,” Nevin said. “We are woking together to fix this fire department, which had been mismanaged for a long time.”

Fornell said the Fire Department hopes to find a manufacturer who can provide the rigs in relatively quick order.
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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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