Detroit Changes Policy for Vacant Building Fires

DETROIT --

The Detroit Fire Department said it is changing its policy on battling blazes at vacant buildings in order to vamp up firefighters' protection.

A raging fire at a vacant commercial building last August on the city's east side caused a wall to collapse on six firefighters, seriously hurting three.

Detroit Fire Commissioner Donald Austin said firefighters would previously enter every building they responded to as a precaution. But now, Austin said, firefighters will only go into a burning building if there's a clear indication that someone is inside.

"Just to assume that a vacant building always has a squatter or a homeless person in there is kind of a false assumption," Austin said.

Austin said the months between July and October are the busiest for the department, and that the city has about 80,000 vacant buildings or foreclosed homes.

"There's not a building in the city that's worth losing a firefighter's life, particularly if it's vacant," Austin said.

Austin said he'll be spreading the word to his chiefs to use caution, but ultimately the fire leader at the scene will have the final decision on whether to send firefighters into the building or not.

Austin, a former official with the Los Angeles Fire Department, was named the department's new commissioner in May.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing fire previous fire commissioner James Mack and deputy commissioner Seth Doyle earlier this year, citing "a disappointing reflection of internal disconnect within the fire department that has plagued them for too long."

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