Council grills interim fire chief on plans
Detroit — City Council members on Tuesday grilled Detroit’s interim fire commissioner on his experience and plans to rebuild trust in a department that’s struggled with poor equipment and morale.
Mayor Mike Duggan earlier this month appointed Eric Jones, a former assistant Detroit police chief, as the city’s interim fire commissioner. He replaces Edsel Jenkins, who retired.
The selection has been at issue for some council members, since Jones, 46, does not have any background or training as a firefighter.
On Tuesday, President Brenda Jones highlighted those concerns, questioning whether he is equipped to handle the task.
“I have a concern about having a commissioner with no experience in fire and then learning the job as you go,” she said during an interview conducted by the council during its formal session on Tuesday.
Brenda Jones noted that with some past administrations, the city has launched national searches for the post. The council must vote by mid-November on Eric Jones’ appointment to the $147,493-a-year job.
Jones retired from the police department in 2014 after a 25-year career. Most recently, he was brought in by Duggan to ramp up code enforcement in neighborhoods and wipe out bureaucratic hurdles as director of the city’s Building Safety Engineering & Environmental Department.
Brenda Jones said Tuesday that Eric Jones has shown strong leadership as the head of the city’s building and safety division, “but to me, that’s totally different.”
Eric Jones touted his ability to lead and noted that the current fire leadership team has decades of experience but “somehow they can’t figure out how to reach out to the front line troops” for input on how to better the department.
“In my estimation, it’s a benefit to be an outsider,” he said, noting “bad blood” within the department and his plans to “offer healing.”
Eric Jones told council members that he’s already working to engage union leaders and firefighters to identify priorities. Last week, he sent out an official bulletin seeking resumes for some of the department’s top posts, including deputy fire commissioner and deputy fire chiefs, senior chiefs and fire investigators. The existing leadership team, he said, also has the opportunity to reapply for the jobs.
“The leaders that are there, I want to see their viewpoint on the department,” he said. “I want to see if they can articulate what we should do moving forward. I’m going to review all of the submissions and make a decision based on that.”
In his short tenure, Jones has already been faced with challenges. Days into the new role, two of Detroit’s emergency medical technicians were attacked by a man with a razor-sharp object and were seriously injured while responding to a run.
The incident prompted Detroit police and other city leaders to explore and initiate self-defense training and other safeguards. Equipment measures, including body armor and defensive tactics, are also being considered, he said.
Also on Tuesday, council stressed that it wanted assurances that Jones would keep morale and the needs of the department’s firefighters in mind.
“I would like to hear more concrete priorities or actions around what does accountability really look like,” Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda Lopez said.