Detroit lawmakers join call for change to city's controversial fire policy
Detroit — A group of state lawmakers are wading into the debate over a controversial new fire code policy in the city that has some runs being dispatched without lights and sirens.
Democratic state Reps. LaTanya Garrett, Tenisha Yancey, Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, Leslie Love and Stephanie Chang joined with Detroit's fire union leadership Monday for a news conference on Linwood to detail concerns over the new policy that the union argues is creating a "public safety nightmare."
"We are standing united to speak toward safety precautions that need to be taken to ensure that all Detroit residents are safe," Gay-Dagnogo, Detroit caucus chair, told reporters, saying the delegation has been informed of the code changes "that put our residents in harm's way."
"As citizens of this city, we're pushing back against that," added Gay-Dagnogo, who represents the Eighth House District. "We want to make sure that reforms put residents first."
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 new rules were put in place by Detroit Fire Commissioner Eric Jones in August and have been met with repeated criticism from the union amid errors and confusion over the plan that they contend will prove deadly.
Earlier this month, Detroit Fire Fighter Association President Mike Nevin called for an administrative shakeup in the fire department and for the policy to be canceled as he stood by a west side resident who lost her rental home to an electrical fire that was mistakenly dispatched as a lower-priority run.
On Monday, Nevin noted "hundreds" have been improperly coded since the policy first took effect in late August and contends it's a move by the city to skew data.
"What the city is trying to do right now is put a square peg into a round hole and manipulate data so that they can go publicly with good numbers," Nevin contends. "This isn't about money, pension, wages or health care. This is about providing adequate service to the public that we swore to protect."
Garrett, a former EMT, said Monday there's a "grave concern" about public safety.
"No lights and no siren, how does the public identify that there is a true emergency?" Garrett said. "Unless they are truly educated ... we are presenting grave danger, not just to this community, but to the city and also the state."
Jones reiterated in a Friday bulletin to the department that the policy is based on national best practices. But the fire union countered that the city has failed to provide supporting documents to prove that.
Jones has admitted there have been some dispatch errors since the new code system went into place but he's maintained that the department will not scrap the policy. But a little over a week ago, he did amend it.
Jones said firefighters will now respond with lights and sirens to all calls for residential and commercial fire alarms, carbon monoxide and downed wires.
The emergent, or Code 1, classification for those runs is a shift from the original policy language. Formerly crews were responding with a lower priority, or Code 2, unless smoke was visible for fire alarm calls, wires were sparking or arcing for downed lines, and if there were signs of illness or injury for carbon monoxide runs, Jones has noted.
Jones, in the Friday bulletin, disputed claims from the union that Jones contends have been "false and misleading."
Jones wrote that staff in fire's central office and those taking the emergency calls "recognize the policy as placing structure around dispatching procedures."
"Per Commissioner Jones, the only people who have ever had access to dispatch terminals are the personnel in central communications and only while they are on active duty," Duggan's spokesman, John Roach, said in an email to The Detroit News on Monday. "No other department personnel ever have had access to that data due to HIPAA privacy reasons."
The commissioner in his bulletin also contends that firefighters, no matter the code, are responding to all calls with a sense of urgency. The policy, Jones noted, is designed to "modernize and professionalize" the department.
Roach claimed Monday that the legislators were being provided "the same false information" from Nevin "so it's not surprising they have concerns."
"If they want to understand the facts, Commissioner Jones would be happy to walk them through the new policy," he said.
Nevin, in response to the claim, said "that is nothing but spin."
Detroit City Councilman Roy McCalister Jr. joined the union and legislators Monday, saying "it is a concern for the people."
"There's a number of issues that I'm concerned about with this," said McCalister said, it could result in lawsuits or higher insurance rates.
The union has pointed out numerous runs that have been improperly dispatched in the weeks since the new rules rolled out. Nevin has cited "Code 2" runs to occupied apartment buildings, car wrecks and even a recent double homicide with an arson fire.
"The mayor needs to shut this down," Nevin said. "It's a human right to have emergency response."