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Detroit — The head of the city's fire union is calling for an administrative shakeup in the fire department and cancellation of a new policy that has some emergency runs dispatched as a lower priority without lights and sirens, warning it will have a "deadly impact."

Detroit Fire Fighter Association President Mike Nevin demanded Tuesday that Fire Commissioner Eric Jones be ousted during a news conference at a house on the city's west side that was severely damaged last week by an electrical fire. A fire crew was dispatched to the scene as a lower-priority under a new policy that Jones implemented in August. 

"The firefighters and the EMS medics are dialing 911 right now to the public. We are dialing 911, please help us help you," Nevin told reporters. "This is a human issue. We are here to save lives.

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"We need some administrative changes in fire administration. No doubt Mayor (Mike) Duggan needs to realize that. This needs to go away."

The policy, which applies to all fire personnel and those who drive fire department vehicles, classifies fire runs by two codes: one for emergent runs and the other for non-life threatening calls. 

The fire union has repeatedly criticized the plan and its execution, pointing out dozens of runs that have been improperly dispatched in the weeks since the new rules rolled out. Nevin has cited "Code 2" runs to downed wires, occupied apartment buildings, car wrecks and even a recent double homicide with an arson fire.


The fire at Sandra Bailey's home was classified as a Code 2, meaning firefighters did not run red lights in response. David Guralnick, The Detroit News

The union is slated to sit down Wednesday with fire administration for a special conference to address issues of concern, chiefly the fire response policy that Nevin said must be canceled. If not, Nevin said the union intends to file an unfair labor practice complaint and seek a court injunction to stop it. 

Detroit resident Sandra Bailey joined Nevin Tuesday at the home on Ardmore, which she's rented for about three years. 

She said she got a call last week from her security company alerting that her smoke detector had been triggered. She rushed home from a restaurant in Warren and arrived alongside the fire engine, she said.

"They (firefighters) were pulling up, and I was like 'really,'" she said. "The commissioner, whoever is behind this law — no lights, no sirens — for real? This wasn't a Code 2. They really need to rethink this before somebody loses their life."

Jones acknowledged that the run was coded wrong and should have been dispatched as a higher priority, or Code 1. The department is investigating, as it does with all runs, he added.

"We're going to use this run to refine our policy and get better, but that doesn't mean that we abandon the policy of categorizing and not responding to all runs lights and sirens," Jones told The News but declined to elaborate on potential changes. "With implementation of any new policy, there's going to be errors, but it does not take away from the value and benefit. ... The substance of the policy will definitely stay intact."

Jones has argued that disregarding traffic signals and speed limits with the activation of lights and sirens for every single run — even when it's not urgent — is unnecessary.

The union's news Tuesday news conference comes a day after members of Detroit City Council raised concern with the policy, claiming it sends the wrong message to residents and leaves too much room for error.

Duggan's spokesman John Roach on Tuesday reiterated Duggan's support for the code system, which the city has regarded as "sound policy," as well as the city's fire administration.

Jones and his staff have said that the fire department receives 400 to 500 requests for fire-related incidents per week. About 50 percent, they contend, are non-life-threatening.

"The union has opposed my leadership since I've been here. That's part of the job," Jones said. "I'm going to continue doing my best to protect the firefighters and the citizens and visitors of the city of Detroit."

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