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Under Pressure: Detroit Firefighters Struggle As Casualties Rise, Resources Diminish

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(WWJ Photo, File)

(WWJ Photo, File)

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DETROIT (WWJ) - Seven people in Detroit have died so far this year in fire-related incidents.

Dan McNamara, President of the Detroit Firefighters Association, said they’re seeing increased response times and a higher number of casualties and injuries after the city’s fire department shut down 15 fire companies due to public safety cuts last year.

But McNamara said the city’s administration isn’t doing anything about it — and that’s why the union is suing the city for negligence.

“The city of Detroit has been fighting the union in court. We’re saying that the city is obligated to provide proper fire response and fire services, and they are negligent in meeting the charter obligations,” he said.

City officials say despite their tighter budget, the fire department is using its resources in the smartest and most efficient manner possible — but McNamara isn’t so sure about that.

“We have a total of 52 fire companies, and that means the engines, ladder trucks, etcetera. Of those, we may only have in the low 40’s operational. That is very deficient in our ability to provide proper response to incidents, whether its auto accidents or dwelling fires or whatever,” he said.

McNamara said the latest fire-related death in the city was on Tuesday, when 6-year-old Michael Chavez and his 4-year-old brother, Julio, were trapped after a fire broke out in their home where they had been left alone by their mother.

Firefighters pulled the children from the second floor of the burning house and rushed them to a local hospital instead of waiting for paramedics to arrive. Michael Chavez was pronounced dead upon arrival, while his brother was in critical condition. A cause of the fire has not yet been determined and police are continuing to question the boy’s mother.

Just days before, a 9-month-old baby girl was killed in a house fire on the city’s east side. Efforts to quell the blaze were hampered when firefighters had trouble finding a working hydrant near the home. A water department spokesperson said the hydrant closest to the home was reported broken just hours before the fire.

“We are seeing evidence of higher response rates, which means if we don’t get there in a certain amount of time, we’re not going to have that opportunity to protect the dwelling or save lives,” McNamara said.”It’s an incredible increase of fires that we’re not getting to, which has resulted in some catastrophic property loss and injuries to civilians.”

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