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  1. #1
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    Default Detroit firefighters battle fires, failures

    Tuesday, April 22, 2008
    Video and photos link

    Detroit firefighters battle fires, failures

    Charlie LeDuff / The Detroit News

    DETROIT -- He is a fireman on the city's east side, near the hulking wreck of the Packard automobile plant. He stands on the street corner outside his firehouse, hands in his pockets, waiting for the call box to call his number. The box bleats incessantly like a colicky sheep across a city perpetually in flames.

    "Ladder 16, please respond."

    The response comes.

    "Ladder 16, out of service."

    Firefighter Jimmy Montgomery laughs every time he hears something like this. Everything seems broken here: from the holes in his boots, to the toilet seat in his firehouse, to the city government that pays his check. He looks at the house across the street on East Grand Boulevard off Moran, the one with the tarpaulin for a roof. He looks at the weeds. The abandoned car. The empty little factories and working-man bars and the bakery where he used to get his bread when he started on the job 17 years ago.

    "This is not what my father had in mind when he came here," Montgomery said. The old man came from Scotland to make a life in Detroit. Now Montgomery will be taking the old man's ashes back to Scotland. He wouldn't bury him here, not anymore.

    It is a small, piercing sentiment.

    Work in this numbing place, day after day, month after month, year after year and it eventually ceases to yield perspective. By virtue of the job, they are the people who are uniquely situated to witness the backward march of a great city, the fight to keep its living people from the ashbin of history as the world economic structure remakes itself. After enough hours of staring into it, these men will tell you, it starts to appear normal. Average. Everyday.

    Then something happens that reminds you of the enormity of it all. A man has tapped into the gas main with a garden hose because he is too poor to warm his children. The hose leaks. The block explodes. The call comes from the box.

    They arrive at the neighborhood three minutes later. The place looks like a painting from the hand of Hieronymus Bosch, a landscape of fire and human failing. The firefighters pull the children from the flames and then throw a wet towel over the embers.

    Eight men return to the firehouse with faces of mud, dirty and shell-shocked, and before they know it, the box is bleating again. This time, it's a run-of-the-mill house fire in a city with 62,000 vacant houses. The motorists don't bother to move to the side anymore. The siren has become a nuisance here, the buzz of a fly.

    And when firefighters arrive at this abandoned place, what they see is a table has been set for supper, the eyeglasses left on top of the book. The cupboard filled with cans and cereals. It's as though the owner went out for a walk two decades ago and never came home.

    It is now that you begin to realize who the Detroit firefighter is. He is, in his own words, the man holding Nero's fiddle.

    Detroit firefighters busy
    The Detroit firefighter is among the busiest in the nation. Take New York as a comparison. It is a city with 9 times the population of Detroit and 9 times more firefighters. Last year, New York firefighters extinguished 47,342 fires. The statistics for Detroit from last year have not been compiled. In fact, the city has not compiled them since 2004.

    But in 2004, Detroit firefighters extinguished 10,288 fires. In short, the Detroit firefighters battled twice as many fires as their counterparts in New York. The paycheck of a Detroit firefighter with 10 years on the job is $10,000 less than one in New York. It breaks down to about $17 an hour plus benefits.

    Undeniably, the world is at a historic crossroad. At some point this year, the United Nations estimates, the city will have finally conquered the world. It is expected that the number of people living in urban areas across the planet will overtake those living in the countryside. It is a monumental shift in the human existence.

    Detroit, too, is at a crossroad. It is the anchor of southeastern Michigan's sprawling megalopolis as much as London or Los Angeles or Lahore, Pakistan, is to its region. The only difference is the core here has not swelled but continues its precipitous contraction.

    Wayne County had the highest percentage of outward migration last year of any major county in the nation. People who want to get out find they cannot sell their houses or make their payments. Some have resorted to burning their home down, said Capt. Steve Varnas of the department's arson section. "You lost your job, you're in trouble financially and no one wants to buy a house in your neighborhood," he explained, adding that arrest warrants for arson in Detroit nearly doubled from 80 in 2005 to 151 in 2007.

    Few feel this more than a Detroit firefighter who works in a city built for 2 million people and yet is now inhabited by 900,000 people.

    "It still burns like a city of 2 million people," says Lt. Steve Kirschner, 51, who has 31 years on the job and walks with a limp because of it. "It probably burns worse because fire in Detroit is entertainment." A can of gas costs $3.50 in Detroit now. But a movie ticket costs $7.

    His colleagues working in other cities sometimes ask him over a beer: "Why, why not just let it burn and start over?" It's a stupid comment, Kirschner says. Fire is like an infection. It spreads.

    "The people in Detroit are poor but most of them are good," Sgt. Mike Nevin, 42, says through cheap cigar smoke in the kitchen of the Squad 3/Engine 23 firehouse on a recent evening. "There are things going on here beyond an ordinary person's control. They are hungry and they have no job. No possibility of a job. They're stuck here."

    The workaday firefighter is angry at what they consider city mismanagement, the peccadilloes and political troubles of the mayor that cost taxpayers $8.4 million in legal settlements. They are angry at the rationing of firefighters, the fact that 20 percent of the fire companies sit idle at any one time due to the lack of money in the city coffers. The fact that they must purchase their own toilet paper and cleaning supplies. The fact that they are forced to wear aging bunker gear coated in carbon, making them the equivalent of walking match sticks. The city even removed the brass poles some time ago and sold them to the highest bidder.

    The city issued this statement in the name of Executive Fire Commissioner Tyrone Scott: "Mayor Kilpatrick recognizes it takes a special person to run into a burning building while everyone else is running out, which is why his administration has invested heavily in our department," it read. The statement goes on: "Detroit Firefighters are the best in the country, and their dedication to serving the citizens of our city hasn't gone unnoticed by this Mayor."

    Thieves scavenge city
    When you ask these men to think on a grand scale, they say that problem is much bigger than city hall.

    "I guess when you get down to it, it's simple," Nevin says. "The man took his factory away, but he didn't take the people with him."

    The Detroit firehouse is like an economic barometer of the times. And according to that barometer, times are hard. Think about the unlucky man they removed from an electric power line, dangling there like a human piŮata. The man had tried to cut down the live wire and sell it for its copper. Taking him down and then going home to play with the children -- that is the duality of a firefighter's life.

    The city is being scavenged a piece at a time. People steal sewer caps and the support beams of the rotting Packard plant, aluminum siding from houses and sell it to the scrap yard. "I got to say I can't blame them," Nevin says. "They're hungry. They want to buy their kids a Happy Meal. I've got kids myself."

    The firehouse itself is not untouched by thieves. The men of this firehouse recently cooked a supper of steak and potatoes. A call came over the box before they could eat it. When they returned they found that their dinner had been stolen, the canned beans and coffee creamer were stolen from the larder, as well as a truck belonging to one of the men.

    A few days ago, when the cold had broken, a deranged woman set fire to an abandoned house. As the firefighters worked to put out the blaze, the woman crawled into the fire truck and tried to drive away. The scene brought to mind the early, lawless days of Sadr City. The Baghdad ghetto burned while vandals drove a stolen fire truck up and down the street with impunity.

    The firefighters radioed police dispatch.

    The response came.

    "No cruiser available."

    Firefighter Jimmy Montgomery heard this and laughed.


  2. #2
    Forum Member Station2Capt's Avatar
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    Interesting story thanks for sharing FFFred. I have been on this job for 20 years now and have met and talked to thousands of FF all over the country. No matter how bad you think you have it in your City there is always someone, somewhere that has it a little worse than you. I have met brothers from Detroit and have heard there struggles. I have to admire them for sticking to their passion of protecting the citizens of their City despite the treatment and working conditions they live with everyday.
    A "Good" fire is not measured by how big it is, but by the fact that everyone is going home safe, and that we possibly learned something new about firefighting. Member:IACOJ

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    Ahhh.....Just like home.

    If you change the city name in this story, and the numbers, this is my story.
    Companies out of service, buying T.P., cleaning supplies, paper towels, broken furnace and A/C units, roofs that leak.......the list goes on. Along with the underlying racial tension....at least I know what it's like to be a monority.

    Like the Brother in the video says: "When will it end?"

    If I remember correctly, our Mayor met with Mayor Kilpatrick for his insight on how to clean up our city.....Now, I have to laugh.
    FTM-PTB
    trk4

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    MembersZone Subscriber dadman's Avatar
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    They shouldn't expect help from their Mayor or City Council.

    http://www.clickondetroit.com/video/15859996/index.html

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    So true and applies not only to Detroit or to the fire service. remember, one of the 3 biggest lies in the world is " I'm from the govt and I'm here to help you"



    Quote Originally Posted by dadman View Post
    They shouldn't expect help from their Mayor or City Council.

    http://www.clickondetroit.com/video/15859996/index.html

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    " I'm from the govt and I'm here to help you"

    One of the 3 biggest lies, really. What are you saying, that I don't do my job? After all, I am from the government (I'm a paid city firefighter/navy reservist) and I am here to help you. Are you?

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    For some reason those Michigan people keep electing liberal democrats expecting them to fix things.

    Hmm......
    BE A BACKBONE - NOT A JAWBONE

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ha11igan View Post
    For some reason those Michigan people keep electing liberal democrats expecting them to fix things.

    Hmm......
    Would you be willing to relocate to Michigan just long enough at the next election cycle to vote? I keep hoping we can get enough people with at least half a brain to get out and vote, but sometimes I think there are more people in this state than there are brain cells.

    I love Michigan very much, and the people here, but you are right, sometimes you just have to scratch your head at election times...
    Unfortunately, I don't think Michigan can turn around until Detroit does, and we'll have to get rid of ol' Kwame before that can happen...

    Anyways, Hats off to our DFD brothers. They do a lot with a little. Calm in the storm.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SFDE37 View Post
    One of the 3 biggest lies, really. What are you saying, that I don't do my job? After all, I am from the government (I'm a paid city firefighter/navy reservist) and I am here to help you. Are you?
    Wound a little too tight, bro? It was a joke. Take a breath. It'll be okay.

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    Thats tough.. i wish the guys that **** and moan about every little thing could have a taste of a tour or two with the brothers from detroit .. but at the end of the day i suppose that its very much the way of the job in that no matter what , guys will get on the truck and go to work . and they wouldnt have it anyother way . lets hope theres someone comming down the pike that will have some concern for the brothers and do whats right . heads up brothers , i know ill be a bit more appreciative next time i get a little ****y about a non issue.

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    Just shows the dedication of these people. Great job, keep up the good work. I wish you well. It will get better eventually.



    Never is this saying so true:

    "We, the willing, led by the uknowning,
    are doing the impossible for the ungrateful.
    We have been doing so much, for so long,
    with so little, we are now qualified to do
    anything with nothing."
    Jason Knecht
    Assistant Chief
    Altoona Fire Dept.
    Altoona, WI

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dickey View Post
    Just shows the dedication of these people. Great job, keep up the good work. I wish you well. It will get better eventually.



    Never is this saying so true:

    "We, the willing, led by the uknowning,
    are doing the impossible for the ungrateful.
    We have been doing so much, for so long,
    with so little, we are now qualified to do
    anything with nothing."
    Very True great Quote!.... God Bless the Detriot Brothers Stay Safe Boys

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    Detroit isn't the only city hurting. Almost all of them are. Hell here thieves are stealing SEWER grates for the scrap metal. They are going after everything they can get their hands on.

    This country is hurting people. Hurting.

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    That is ****ed up.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Skyline View Post
    Detroit isn't the only city hurting. Almost all of them are. Hell here thieves are stealing SEWER grates for the scrap metal. They are going after everything they can get their hands on.

    This country is hurting people. Hurting.
    Those words are so true. The country is hurting, and bad. Something has to change.

    Good luck.

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    From what I've heard, the guys who appear in the video and photos are now facing department charges.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Skyline View Post
    Detroit isn't the only city hurting. Almost all of them are. Hell here thieves are stealing SEWER grates for the scrap metal. They are going after everything they can get their hands on.

    This country is hurting people. Hurting.

    Yeah and we need CHANGE to fix it! We need higher taxes and more government to fix it!!!!



    What a joke.
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    Quote Originally Posted by DetroitFF View Post
    From what I've heard, the guys who appear in the video and photos are now facing department charges.
    When I saw it, That was the first thought to cross my mind...can't imagine Mayor hip hop...would like the inside look at his administrations failures.

    Keep us posted of what happens.

    FTM-PTB

  19. #19
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    Fred, thanks for sharing that, it's an amazing story that I can sympathize with.
    'Adversus incendia excubias nocturnas vigilesque commentus est"

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