City crew boards old Detroit fire building after blaze, concerns over sensitive documents

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
General Service Department workers from Detroit were on the site of an old fire department training center Monday securing the site following a fire, concerns that sensitive documents remained inside.

Detroit — Close to a dozen workers from the city's General Services Department were working in the rain Monday to board a vacant former fire department training center following a suspicious fire and amid concerns that old records with sensitive information remained inside.

Late Monday morning, a foreman on the site at Warren and Lawton deferred comment to the city's administration, saying only that the crew was working to secure the building and would remain there throughout the day.

The Detroit News reported Sunday that the fire department was investigating claims that sensitive information had been left at the site last used by the fire department in 2014.

Second Deputy Chief Charles Simms confirmed in a provided statement that staff had been out to the old training center "on numerous occasions in the past year" and would be returning Monday to reassess the remaining records and "remove any that may be sensitive or have any investigatory value to the arson unit."

On Monday, Simms said all that remained at the former academy after previous document removals were "primarily old run sheets and basic paperwork and texts related to the training academy and its courses."

Any documents left on the site, he said, will be removed from the building this week and securely transported to the incinerator to be destroyed.

Detroit Fire Fighters Union president Mike Nevin has said that he told city officials, including Mayor Mike Duggan, Fire Commissioner Eric Jones and Police Chief James Craig, that sensitive information has been lying around at the site.

Nevin said some documents included Social Security numbers, medical information of civilians and employees, run sheets, payroll and fire reports as well as arson reports and grievance sheets. He said he saw the paperwork on the site.

The documents, Nevin said Sunday, “are like kites flying all over the neighborhood. It’s a joke.”

Nevin has been critical of the department recently and the fire union filed an unfair labor charge over a controversial new response policy that the fire department implemented in August that has crews responding to some runs without lights and sirens. Nevin has argued the move endangers lives.

Jones, however, has noted that the former procedure of disregarding traffic signals and speed limits for every run, even when not emergent, is unnecessarily dangerous. 

The fire, which remains under investigation, was reported around 2 p.m. Thursday at the west side building that's under the jurisdiction of the Detroit Building Authority. 

Deputy Fire Commissioner Dave Fornell said the fire originated on the second floor of the six-story building. It took about 10 minutes to bring it under control, he said.

Representatives from the mayor's office and police department have declined to comment.

Simms on Sunday disputed Nevin's claim that the site has been left unsecured.

“The city secured the former academy building with padlocked fencing and boards when the fire department vacated it and has responded to all requests to have it re-secured since then," he said.
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