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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Mayor calls fires in Detroit ‘natural disaster’

    A man runs away from a fire on Detroit, Michigan's east side, Tuesday, September 7, 2010. Fires raging across large sections of the city tonight are being blamed on downed electrical wires. (Marcin Szczepanski/Detroit Free Press/MCT)
    A man runs away from a fire on Detroit, Michigan's east side, Tuesday, September 7, 2010. Fires raging across large sections of the city tonight are being blamed on downed electrical wires. (Marcin Szczepanski/Detroit Free Press/MCT)

    DETROIT — Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Fire Commissioner James Mack on Wednesday defended the handling of a rash of fires that swept through dozens of city neighborhoods Tuesday.

    Bing said the combination of 50 m.p.h. winds, dry weather and downed power lines contributed to the firestorm and prompted fire officials to call in help from Harper Woods, Warren, Dearborn, Grosse Pointe and Highland Park.

    “”You can never have enough resources — you can do all the planning in the world but when something of this magnitude hits any city, any area, you just have to respond,”” Bing said. “”Even though there are a lot of people who are naysayers who may say ‘You don’t have enough equipment, you don’t have enough people,’ I just don’t think for a natural disaster, which is really what this was, I don’t think you can appropriately plan for that.””

    Mack said 58 of the city’s 66 fire companies — 236 firefighters — responded to fires throughout the city Tuesday. Detroit Fire union officials have long complained about the city’s practice of deactivating between eight to 12 fire companies daily because of budget constraints. And Mack said the department is about 20 firefighters understaffed.

    “”Everybody knows we are under budget constraints, so with those budget constraints we are maximizing the equipment that we have and the manpower that we have,”” Mack said. “”Yesterday was an unusual day — in 32 years I haven’t seen that.””

    Mack said the department responded to 85 burning structures and 62 downed power lines in about a four-hour period Tuesday. The city averages about 35 fires daily. He said if he had a repeat of Tuesday’s conditions he would have called for help sooner.

    Mack acknowledged that response time was delayed Tuesday because resources were allocated to other fires, and officials needed to prioritize between occupied and unoccupied dwellings.

    The city has not had to call for help from suburban Detroit fire companies since the riot of 1967, Mack said.

    “”We made some decisions based on public safety that we thought were the right decisions,”” Bing said. “”We were confronted with some conditions that were not manmade, and we had to respond to that accordingly.””

    Both the mayor and fire commissioner showed flashes of frustration and anger by repeated questions about manpower shortages and DTE’s slow response time to downed power lines. A reporter asked Bing — a former DTE board member — if he was qualified to hold DTE accountable if it’s found that they did not respond to downed power lines in a timely manner.

    “”Don’t ask me about qualifications, OK; don’t ask me about qualifications right now,”” Bing bristled. “”We’re dealing with something with folks’ lives. Let me deal with that; let me deal with that.””

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