Cityscape

Detroit vs. Steve Neavling: Is Story on 'Defective' Fire Rigs Misleading and Wrong?


August 02, 2015, 6:52 PM

Update: WXYZ reported on the situation Friday night, as Neavling notes in a Facebook post: "Great story by Ronnie Dahl, a true watchdog reporter who has not fallen under the spell of Mayor Mike Duggan and his incessant cover-ups."

Video below: Dahl's three-minute report, summarized on the station's site with the headline "Sounding the alarm on Detroit's aging fleet of fire rigs," is at the end of this article.

The Detroit Fire Department responds with a long list of points on Friday afternoon, accusing the Motor CIty Muckraker news site of misleading and inaccurate reporting on a story about  fire rigs responding to fires. 

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling of Motor City Muckraker on Thursday night publishes his latest report on the Detroit Fire Department with the headline: 'Rolling the dice:' Detroit routinely sends dangerously defective rigs to fires."

He writes that the city "routinely violates state and federal safety laws by sending dangerously defective ladder trucks and engines to fires in occupied houses, high-rise apartments and commercial buildings, delaying response times, hampering rescue efforts and endangering firefighters, an 18-month Motor City Muckraker investigation has found."

He goes on to report:

In fact, at least 47 people have been injured or killed in fires where defective rigs were sent since Jan. 1, 2014, according to an analysis of thousands of records.

When rigs break down or malfunction, fires often burn longer and spread to adjacent houses and buildings, devouring neighborhoods, driving up insurance rates and accelerating the decades-long exodus. 

To blame are chronic issues that have plagued the fire department for decades – shoddy maintenance, poor management decisions and reckless budget cuts.

The Fire Department sent a detailed response to  Deadline Detroit and Neavling was given an opportunity to respond. He calls the city's response misleading, insincere and in many cases, totally untrue.

Detroit Fire Department response: 

It is well known that for years, even decades, the DFD fleet has been beyond its service life and that historically, fleet upgrades were not made a priority.

  •  Last year $12.8 million was approved for new apparatus and another $9 million is in this year’s budget
  •  We also received $1.8 million for improved maintenance. From this money, 15 rigs were repaired and our fire boat
  •  We also have transferred responsibility for maintenance to GSD from DFD

Engines

  • 10 new engines are now arriving
  • Three Engines have arrived
  • One more engine Aug. 7
  • One more engine Aug. 14
  • Five final engines Aug. 21
  • Initial plans are to order 9 additional new engines this fiscal year
  • Initial plans include ordering two new ladder trucks

Rescue Squads

  • 6 new rescue squads with pumpers will be delivered early next year. Currently, none of our rescue squads have pumping capability.


Ladder Trucks

  • 18 months ago, we had no certified ladder trucks.
  • We now have 9 certified ladder trucks
  • L6, L17, L13, L26, L25, L07, L20, L18, L27
  • Two more ladder trucks are in the shop and will be certified soon). After that, two more at a time will go in for repairs  until we have the standard of 17.
  •  Preventive maintenance is being done on all vehicles
  • Thorough check of all systems and repairing anything that is safety related.
  •  This is done on a 4 month cycle. Prior to Feb 2014 preventive maintenance had not been done for years. We have records of all such work.

· Any repairs that need to be certified are sent out to a certified third party vendor.

Inspections

  • · Required that ladder trucks be visually inspected annually (in house) are being done
  • · Every five years there is a structural test on the aerials and platforms for certification. That is being done.

Inaccuracies

  • Story states that Ladder 6 has not passed inspections. It passed inspections October 22, 2014 and is certified.
  • Story says Fire Boat does not pump. Fire Boat does pump at 10,972 gallons per minute, which is the equivalent of 10 ladder trucks. Optimally, it should pump at 11,572 gallons per minute. There is a repair needed on one of the pumps to get it back to its optimal level and it will soon be addressed.
  • Story states we only repair vehicles when they go down. We regularly pull vehicles out of service on a rotational cycle for preventative maintenance
  • Story states that a gas tank on a rig was secured by what appears to be a seat belt. Absolutely not. One rig had the metal supports partially fail. It was secured with a brand new, stronger bracket system. A rubber lined fabric was used as a sheathe outside of the standard metal straps that serve as additional support for the tank. The purpose of the sheathe was to reduce the possibility of static electrical shock near the gas tank.

Neavling was provided a copy of the accusations from the Fire Department. The writing in bold is his answers.

City: It is well known that for years, even decades, the DFD fleet has been beyond its service life and that historically, fleet upgrades were not made a priority.

Neavling: **The fleet is nowhere near decades old. The oldest rig is about 16 years old. The average age is 12. 

City: Last year $12.8 million was approved for new apparatus and another $9 million is in this year’s budget

Neavling: Partly true, and it was squandered in a bidding scandal that I am going to report on next week. The Fire Department ordered substandard engines with single-stage pumps, which means they are useless when it comes putting out fires in high-rise buildings. There were hundreds of change orders because the company was incapable of meeting the bid specifications, and that is why not a single engine arrived in time. The first engine already malfunctioned. And some of the fire stations aren't large enough to to accommodate the new engines. It should also be noted that the funding came from a "quality of life" loan, which has to be paid back by taxpayers. 

City: We also received $1.8 million for improved maintenance. From this money, 15 rigs were repaired. 

Neavling: Many rigs were repaired, but they were in such disrepair that they continue to have serious problems. I would be happy to show you how many times each of these rigs have broken down since they were fixed. Just need to know which rigs were repaired. 

City: We also have transferred responsibility for maintenance to GSD from DFD.

Neavling:  So what? What does that mean? Are they able to supply any evidence that there is preventative maintenance? They have not given me the records I requested. 

City: Engines : 10 new engines are now arriving -- 

These were supposed to arrive in June, and then the city changed the date to July on an old press release.  

City: Three Engines have arrived

· One more engine August 7 -- (Neavling:  Be careful to believe any of these dates)

· One more engine August 14

· Five final engines August 21

City: Initial plans are to order 9 additional new engines this fiscal year .

Neavling:  Be careful of the words "initial." This money is supposed to be available today, not later this year. Also, the city has shuffled around Quality of Life funding because the Land Bank has mismanaged its money and forced out its director under very suspicious circumstances. 

City:  Initial plans include ordering two new ladder trucks

Neavling:  I have emails from the fire commissioner last week where he said the city had enough ladder trucks, and that there were no plans to buy ladder trucks. And 2 ladder trucks represent a tiny fraction of the ladder trucks in service. 

City: Rescue Squads

6 new rescue squads with pumpers will be delivered early next year. Currently, none of our rescue squads have pumping capability.

Neavling: The rescue squads will be at least a year late, if they are done when the city says they will be. 

City: Ladder Trucks

  • 18 months ago, we had no certified ladder trucks.
  • We now have 9 certified ladder trucks

Neavling:  This is a lie. The NFPA, which sets national firefighting standards, requires aerial testing annually, not every five years. Most of the ladder trucks have been tested more than a year ago, so they no longer meet national firefighting standards. Also, NFPA requires ladder trucks to be re-tested after they are in an accident. More than half of the ladders below were in accidents.   What also should be noted is that the ladders that have not been certified FAILED safety tests and continue to be sent to fires where people are trapped. Check this for more information on the annual testing requirements: http://www.fireengineering.com/articles/print/volume-152/issue-10/departments/apparatus-the-shops/annual-

City: Two more ladder trucks are in the shop and will be certified soon). After that, two more at a time will go in for repairs until we have the standard of 17.

Neavling-This is an odd concession because in a city press release last year, "Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins says he expects the department’s 27 ladder trucks to will be repaired and available for service within months, as well as four additional aerial ladders in need of repair."

City: Preventive maintenance is being done on all vehicles

Neavling:  Prove it. They were unable to provide any records to show this. Firefighters also universally deny this is happening. 

City: Thorough check of all systems and repairing anything that is safety related. 

 This is done on a 4 month cycle. Prior to Feb 2014 preventive maintenance had not been done for years. We have records of all such work. 

Neavling: Let's see the records. The city violated the law gy denying us these records under a FOIA request.

City: Any repairs that need to be certified are sent out to a certified third party vendor.

Neavling:  No kidding. 

City: Inspections:  Required that ladder trucks be visually inspected annually (in house) are being done

Neavling: Visual inspections are insufficient, and do no substitute for annual testing, according to NFPA. 

City: Every five years there is a structural test on the aerials and platforms for certification. That is being done.

Inaccuracies

City: Story states that Ladder 6 has not passed inspections. It passed inspections October 22, 2014 and is certified. 

Neavling: This again is BS because inspections are for one year, not five. That is an arbitrary time period created by the city, hoping the media won't notice. 

City: Story says Fire Boat does not pump. Fire Boat does pump at 10,972 gallons per minute, which is the equivalent of 10 ladder trucks. Optimally, it should pump at 11,572 gallons per minute. There is a repair needed on one of the pumps to get it back to its optimal level and it will soon be addressed. 

Neavling: The last time the fire boat was needed, which was last weekend, the telesquiter malfunctioned, and the firefighters said they were thankful there wasn't a real fire because they would have been unable to extinguish it. I have audio of this if you'd like to see it. 

City: Story states we only repair vehicles when they go down. We regularly pull vehicles out of service on a rotational cycle for preventative maintenance.

Neavling:  I addressed this above. 

City:  Story states that a gas tank on a rig was secured by what appears to be a seat belt. Absolutely not.

Neavling:  I will send a picture of the gas tank. IF it was done properly, why did it fall off? MIOSHA looked at a picture of the gas tank and said the measure was absolutely unsafe. MIOSHA will be looking at the rigs, according to a spokeswoman I talked with today.

City: One rig had the metal supports partially fail. It was secured with a brand new, stronger bracket system. A rubber lined fabric was used as a sheathe outside of the standard metal straps that serve as additional support for the tank. The purpose of the sheathe was to reduce the possibility of static electrical shock near the gas tank.

WXYZ's coverage:



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