Family claims it was renovating home in firefighter photo on social media
Detroit — A New Year's Eve photo on social media that depicts firefighters posing in front of a burning house has sparked an internal investigation and anger from the family that claims to own it, according to reports.
The New York Post reports the west side home had been in the family of Deonte Higginbotham for 50 years and was under renovation to accommodate his sick mother, Dorothy.
The controversial photo went up on the Detroit Fire Incidents Page on Facebook just before midnight, with the caption: "Crews take a moment to get a selfie on New Years!"
A family member of the homeowner reached Friday deferred to another relative who was not immediately available.
Detroit Deputy Fire Commissioner Dave Fornell told The News on Friday that the incident remains under investigation. The photo, he said, was taken Tuesday during the last duty shift of a chief who was retiring. The page where it was posted, Fornell said, is not operated by the fire department.
The blaze on the 600 block of Green Street on Detroit's west side was reported just after 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Fornell said Friday that he has not been in touch with the family to address their claims. He added he could not comment "until we get more facts."
Fornell has said the building had been vacant and the department wasn't going to send any firefighters inside "because the danger was quite high."
"It was well involved when we got there. Whether it was vacant or not, it was still too dangerous to go in," he said. "We're looking at all facets of it."
Wayne County property records show that Dorothy Higginbotham transferred ownership of the property to Deonte Higginbotham in May.
There's no record of renovation permits being pulled for the property in at least a decade, according to David Bell, director of Detroit's Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department.
Separately, the water department has not received a payment on the property since February 2018, and the account has a past-due balance of $3,834.15, said Tiffany Jones, a spokeswoman for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.
Despite the arrears, the account was still active but hasn't shown any usage since Feb. 6, 2019, Jones said. Prior to that month, she added, there had been no usage since May 2018.
Fornell said the fire department's arson division is evaluating the fire and a cause hasn't been determined.
As for the photograph, Fornell said the circumstances are under review and if a firefighter posted it, it would be a violation of the department's social media policy.
The picture has since been removed from the social media page by an administrator who noted that a Detroit firefighter had asked that it be posted. It was removed, they wrote, because "guys on the job" said "they had been threatened" with punitive actions over the posting.
Fire Commissioner Eric Jones on Wednesday called the incident "inappropriate and unprofessional" and said that disciplinary action will be taken.
"It's very bad optics and a lapse of judgment on some people's parts," Fornell said.