Union Leader: Fires "A Long Time In The Making"

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detroit fires 090810 003 dl1 Union Leader: Fires "A Long Time In The Making"The head of the Detroit firefighters union is refuting claims that Tuesday’s fires were a natural disaster and instead says the fires were a disaster “waiting to happen.”

Mayor Dave Bing called the fires a natural disaster during a Wednesday afternoon news conference, however Dan McNamara, president of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association union told WWJ’s Roberta Jasina that the union has been telling city leaders for ten years that “this day is coming.”

McNamara says the city needs to get more federal grant money to hire a couple hundred more firefighters. He says Flint and volunteer fire departments around Michigan are getting the federal cash and Detroit either isn’t applying for, or being awarded those grants.

While Bing praised the help of suburban departments, McNamara called it embarrassing.

“This is the first time we haven’t been able to respond to all of our runs,” said McNamara. “As much as I love my (suburban) brothers and sisters … we like to handle our own business. It was a bit embarrassing.”

While budget cuts have left the city with fewer firefighters, the help also could be a sign of changing attitudes between mostly black Detroit and its neighbors, polarized by years of political race baiting and lingering memories of a 1967 riot that accelerated the flight of whites to the suburbs.

Tuesday’s fires swept though several neighborhoods, including some that were well-tended and others filled with deteriorating vacant houses and weed-filled lots. Detroit Fire Commissioner James Mack said it was the worst spate of fires since the 1980s, when firefighters regularly battled hundreds of arsons on the night before Halloween. No injuries were reported, but people in some charred areas complained that firefighters took as much as 90 minutes to respond.

Mack said the last time suburban fire rigs helped out in the city may have been during the 1967 riot, when entire blocks went up in flames at the hands of arsonists.

Nearby Harper Woods sent a crew to help with fires Tuesday at two houses and four garages on Detroit’s east side, even before asking the city if assistance was needed. When the fire was reported, Harper Woods Deputy Fire Chief Jim Burke said, “Detroit had nobody there at all.”

By the times his crews arrived, he said, one city rig was there. “The Detroit guys welcomed our guys,” he said.

“Usually, they have enough resources where they don’t need a small, suburban department to help,” Burke added.

Given another chance, Mack said, he might have called for help from the suburbs a little sooner.

© MMX WWJ Radio, All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to his report.

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