Flint, Michigan Fire Dept's sad reality
FLINT, Mich. (AP) - Five houses thought to have been torched by
arsonists might still be standing if this cash-strapped city had
not scrapped its fire prevention bureau, the interim fire chief
The decision to close the bureau was "ill-advised and not in
the (city's) best interests," Dandre Williams said in a memo to
City Council members.
The council received the memo Monday after asking for an
evaluation of the city's fire equipment. In his response, Williams
said some of that equipment is in "abysmal condition" after going
sometimes for years without proper maintenance.
The council did not discuss specifics of Williams' memo, The
Flint Journal said in a Wednesday story.
The fire department's problems have been aggravated by what
Williams called Flint's "musical chairs" government.
In the 14 months since the council voted to close the fire
prevention bureau, Michigan's fourth-largest city has had two
mayors, two fire chiefs and a back-and-forth battle with the state
over control of its finances.
The council eliminated the fire prevention bureau in June 2001
as part of an effort to slash the city's 2001-02 budget by $16
million. But a state board voted July 8 - when Flint's deficit had
reached an estimated $40.3 million - to name a manager to control
Ingham County Circuit Judge James Giddings returned control of
the city's purse strings to Flint officials Sept. 3. Both sides are
waiting for the Michigan Court of Appeals to uphold or reverse
Two Flint Police Department members now investigate suspicious
fires. But even Hamtramck and Highland Park, which are under
state-appointed financial managers' control, both have fire
marshals, Williams said.
This summer's suspected arsons have underscored problems with a
department whose ranks have plummeted by more than 40 percent since
January 2001, from 180 firefighters to about 106 as of early July.
Williams' memo contained a bleak assessment of the fire
A 1996 fire engine experienced a major drivetrain problem
because its transmission fluid had not been changed. Repairs cost
$10,000, but a shop that had done business with Flint in the past
refused to do the work because it was owed $40,000 by the city.
On other vehicles, the oil was changed but oil filters sometimes
went 15 years without being replaced, the chief said.
The state fined the fire department $151,200 last year after
inspectors found more than 90 safety violations, more than
one-third of them involving vehicles. The fine was later reduced.
Rico Phillips, a spokesman for the Flint Firefighters Union,
said he was "extremely surprised but very satisfied" by the
frankness of Williams' memo to the council.
"I hope the spending priorities will focus on public safety,"
Mayor James Rutherford said he had not seen the memo but planned
to discuss fire department issues with Williams.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press