Cash-Strapped Mich. Fire Dept. Longs For Donations

April 1, 2013
Firefighters in Highland Park aren't jealous of the donations that neighboring Detroit Fire Dept. has received, but they wish some would come their way soon.

April 01--As tractor-trailers full of toilet paper, delivery vans of new mattresses and $8 million in new equipment stock firehouses in Detroit, firefighters in neighboring Highland Park continue to struggle.

They've operated out of a cavernous industrial warehouse for eight years after the city's only station was condemned. They sleep in makeshift shacks of two-by-fours and plywood and eat out of a portable trailer.

Despite it all, Highland Park firefighters say they're happy for their brethren in Detroit. And Highland Park Fire Chief Derek Hillman says he's working with the community to make magic happen for his department, too, seeking partnerships and donations from private and corporate sponsors.

"I'm not jealous in any way," Hillman said Saturday. "I know we have our own struggles. But, honestly, with them getting new equipment, that's going to benefit us too. If we have a large fire and need some help, they will be able to come help us. We'll get our own equipment. I'm not worried about it."

The Highland Park Fire Department is one of the busiest around southeastern Michigan. It handles about 1,000 runs a year, including 150-200 structure fires, in a 2.9-square-mile city of 11,600 residents. The department's only working ladder truck has 20,000 hours of service, equivalent to 1.2 million miles on a passenger car, the chief said.

The brightest spot in the near future is the opening of the department's new $2.6-million, 14,000-square-foot station on Gerald at Woodward Avenue, slated for September.

Paid for by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funds, groundbreaking on the new station was last fall.

The department hit another rough spot during a run to a false alarm in December. A crash with a tractor-trailer totaled the department's first new truck in years, a $350,000 fire truck bought in 2011 by a resident flush with lottery winnings.

Luckily, Hillman was already trying to buy another rig. He organized a fund-raising cruise on the Detroit Princess riverboat in August to raise $10,000. The department bought an old rig from the City of Howell with the cash. Businesses in Highland Park and Pontiac donated manpower and supplies to refurbish and paint it.

"It's great -- it's one of the better (pieces of) equipment that we have of all the used equipment we have," firefighter Dammeon Player, 40, of Southfield said. "We're just appreciative. ... Honestly, a lot of the guys here don't care where we sleep at, as long as we are able to have some good equipment and do our job best. That's what matters: putting out fires, saving lives, saving property."

Now, Hillman is trying to raise another $350,000 for an additional rig. And he's looking for donations to help provide niceties for the new station not covered by the grant. Ten beds, eight recliners for the dayroom (one for each person working a shift) kitchenware, exercise equipment and televisions are on the wish list.

"I feel funny even talking about asking for us," he said, sighing. "We like to be there helping other people. We're not here to sit here and complain about what we don't have. We'll find a way to get it ourselves, usually. All the firemen I've ever met are some of the most resourceful guys you'll ever imagine."

More Details: How to help

To find out how to help, call the Highland Park Fire Department at 313-252-0225.

Copyright 2013 - Detroit Free Press

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