Changes are being made at the Detroit Fire Department — starting at the top. Mayor Dave Bing has announced the removal of Fire Commissioner James Mack Jr., who held the job for about 16 months.
Bing says he also is relieving Deputy Fire Commissioner Seth Doyle of his duties.
The mayor says he was compelled to make a tough, but necessary decision, as a result of poor communication between the fire department and other city officials.
Bing called the situation “a disappointing reflection of internal disconnect within the fire department that has plagued them for too long,” as he announced the firings Friday.
“The day is over when people can just kinda do what they wanna do, or go back to things that they normally did. This administration will not tolerate that,” Bing said.
Both firings came after months of discontent in City Hall and across Detroit over fire and emergency medical service operations, including complaints of slow response times on calls.
Failure to let the mayor’s office know of a resident’s complaint that a wallet containing $110 was stolen from her home last month and later returned apparently was Bing’s breaking point.
That complaint was never reported to city administration.
Deputy Mayor Saul Green says Bing heard about the alleged theft through a media report.
Bing has promoted Fred Wheeler to the position of Interim Fire Commissioner, while the city begins a national search for new leadership.
The mayor says the city will hire a new leadership team that will change the culture of the Detroit Fire Department.
Bing appointed the 53-year-old Mack to his post in September 2009. Doyle, 52, had been deputy fire commissioner under former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Bing reappointed him to that job in May 2009.
The fire department was heavily criticized in September when wild fires fueled by hot, dry temperatures and high winds spread quickly through a number of neighborhoods across Detroit. Some of the fires were blamed on downed power lines.
More than 70 houses and garages caught fire. Most were vacant or abandoned. Twenty-nine homes were occupied.
Residents in pockets across the city used garden hoses to fight some of the blazes and dampen houses to keep them from catching fire before fire crews arrived.
Dan McNamara, president of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association, said the slow response times can be partly blamed on budget and staffing.
“We’re down 200 to 300 firefighters. They’ve closed up to 10 fire companies a day,” he told The Associated Press Friday. “When you take those companies out of service, that equates to slow response.”
Under Mack, “not everything the union says is recognized,” McNamara said. “We are the voice of the firefighters.”
McNamara said his office has not received any official report on the alleged theft of the wallet or any investigation led by Mack and Doyle.
If such an investigation took place, it was not proper procedure, he said.
“I guess that’s the cornerstone of this thing,” McNamara said. “It’s disappointing to have our fire department in such a light.”
The firings of Mack and Doyle follow the forced exit over the summer of Police Chief Warren Evans.
Evans, a former Wayne County sheriff, was appointed chief by Bing in 2009 and fired just over a year later after he raised the mayor’s ire by taking part in a promotional video for a cable police reality show. Bing later said he also fired Evans because the chief was romantically involved with a subordinate.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.