Mutual aid or communication breakdown?

By Charles Sercombe

The smoke has cleared from last week’s fires in nearby neighborhoods in Detroit, but criticism of how the city handled the fires is still raging.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing was almost immediately scorched by critics after he claimed the fire department handled the crisis well.

One of those critics was the union representing firefighters, which said Bing’s cuts and layoffs in the department have compromised the city’s fire service.

Fire department officials said they did everything they could to contain the 85 fires that broke out, from the east side to the west side, including calling other communities to help out.

But curiously, no one called Hamtramck’s Fire Department, despite the fact that the two communities have a mutual aid agreement and that some of the fires were located just minutes away from the Hamtramck border.

One of the people wondering why Detroit never called is Hamtramck Fire Chief Steve Paruk.

“I don’t know why they didn’t call us,” Paruk said. “We would have done something.”

According to a spokesman for the Detroit Fire Department, Detroit expected Hamtramck to call and offer its help.

“In normal conditions we would have called them,” said Katrina Butler, Chief of the Communications Department. “But this was not a normal condition and we were overwhelmed.”

A source in the Detroit Fire Department, who asked not be directly quoted, said Detroit didn’t consider Hamtramck because Hamtramck failed to participate in a meeting last year with other communities to prepare for Halloween coverage.

Hamtramck’s Chief Paruk said that is not true. He said he received a call about the meeting on the day it was being held but not before. Paruk said he went to the meeting and was given special radios to be able to talk with Detroit firefighters on their radio frequency.

Paruk said as far as responding to mutual aid, the policy is for the city in need to call for assistance.
A case in point, he said, was the huge fire at Sterling Oil last year. He said Detroit did not show up until he called for their assistance.

Paruk stressed that there have been numerous times his department has spotted fires in neighborhoods across the Hamtramck-Detroit border and responded to it without waiting for a call from Detroit.

In addition to policy matters, there is also the reality of union politics. In some cases, mutual aid is no guarantee for assistance. A few years ago, Hamtramck had to lay off firefighters while at the same time there were labor issues simmering between the firefighters’ union and city officials.

During the period, a major fire broke out at the former site of the Polish Market on Jos. Campau and Commor. A Detroit crew arrived, all suited up, but refused to help out because of the labor disputes happening in Hamtramck.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *