Commissioner: Firefighters who posed at burning house will be punished
Detroit — The city's fire commissioner said Friday the firefighters who posed in front of a burning house on New Year's Eve will be disciplined, although terms of the punishment were not disclosed.
The photo, taken in front of the house at 611 South Green in the Delray section of southwest Detroit, was posted on the Detroit Fire Incidents Facebook page just before midnight, with the caption: "Crews take a moment to get a selfie on New Years!"
The New York Post reported that the home had been in the family of Deonte Higginbotham for 50 years and was under renovation to accommodate his sick mother, Dorothy. Multiple calls to the family by The Detroit News were not returned.
The photo was heavily criticized, and fire commissioner Eric Jones launched an investigation, which he said in a statement Friday was complete.
"The investigation reveals that firefighters did enter the location to initiate fire suppression operations," Jones said. "However, due to concerns about structural integrity, the firefighters were ordered out to assume a defensive posture.
"During this transition from offensive operations to defensive operations, a suggestion was made to take a photo, with the retiring battalion chief, in front of the building," he said.
Jones said the "momentary lapse in judgment," which "brought great embarrassment to our department and our great city," would result in punishment for those involved.
"All involved will be held accountable," he said. "Because this is a personnel matter, I cannot discuss details of the discipline. However, supervisors and above will receive a greater degree of disciplinary accountability.
"I am satisfied that everyone involved has shown the appropriate level of regret for this inappropriate behavior," Jones said.
In a statement, Thomas Gerhart, president of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association, said those involved in the incident understand the backlash over it and "accept responsibility."
"The men and women of the Detroit Fire Department and EMS risk their lives daily for the citizens of Detroit and all that pass through our borders, saving countless lives. The individuals associated with this event are aware and understand the public perception and accept responsibility for the way it may have appeared," he said.
"These men and women serve with pride and are among the best in the Country, and should not be judged personally or professionally regarding this incident. We remain proud and fully support our firefighters and EMS personnel and their service to our citizens."
Jones said despite the incident, he holds his charges "in high esteem."
"Detroit Firefighters risk their lives everyday entering burning buildings and performing dangerous technical rescues," he said. "Saving lives and saving property is our mission, and the men and women of DFD execute this mission without hesitation ... we should all hold them in high esteem for their sacrifices."