Donald Austin needs to always keep what happened to him yesterday in mind once he takes over as the commissioner of the troubled Detroit Fire Department. Friday was the day the Detroit native, who retired in February as an assistant chief with the Los Angeles Fire Department, sat down with TV reporter Charlie LeDuff, the man two previous fire commissioners constantly ran from. And the fact that the former commissioners never understood how to handle LeDuff is one of the reasons Chief Austin has this new job.
What Chief Austin needs to remember is the demeanor, candor and poise he showed in the video above. Bottle it. You will need it.
A Dennis Walus photo of Detroit firefighters in action at a house fire on Tuesday. While LeDuff stays on the commissioners, Walus is out there, camera in hand, showing the daily work of Detroit firefighters. Click here for Dennis' photos.
The new commissioner will likely have a brief honeymoon with LeDuff and the rest of the press after he takes over the department on Monday. But it won't be long before LeDuff comes calling again with some internal document in his hand or video of a new scandal or serious problem. Chief Austin will do the department a world of good by handling the bad news exactly as he handled this interview, including the sense of humor he showed at the end of the clip.
And if Chief Austin really wants to minimize the impact of some future scandal he shouldn't wait until LeDuff shows up demanding to talk to the commissioner. In fact, it should be the other way around. When bad news strikes, the commissioner should be the one demanding to talk to LeDuff and other reporters, providing all of the gory details. Furthermore, if the chief really wants to tame LeDuff a bit, he should immediately dump a pile of paperwork on the reporter. Let Charlie see the entire paper trail showing what happened to the money to fix crumbling firehouses or maintain the city's ambulances. Get it all out so the problems of the past are truly that and they don't become the problems of the future for the new commissioner to constantly deal with.
I imagine that Charlie gave his cell phone number to Chief Austin yesterday. Memorize that number chief and use it often. It can be an important tool in changing the image and perception of the Detroit Fire Department.