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Fireground radio traffic: Detroit heavy rescue transports two little boys from house fire due to lack of EMS. One dead, one critical.

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Fossilmedic Mike Ward looks at dismal state of Detroit’s EMS fleet

Tony Briscoe & George Hunter, The Detroit News:

Capt. Dale Bradley said the 911 call for the fire came in at 6:59 a.m. and Squad 4 arrived five minutes later. However, it wasn’t until a second 911 call came in at 7:12 a.m. that the Fire Department was notified the upstairs was occupied. EMS was dispatched at 7:13 a.m., but Squad 4 made the decision to transport the boys themselves at 7:15 a.m.

“When it came in, it came in as a house fire,” Bradley said. “And EMS isn’t normally dispatched to a dwelling fire unless the caller indicates people are trapped inside.”

Fire officials say Medic 5, stationed road 6.2 miles away near the intersection of Joy and Southfield, was called to the fire. Two other ambulances were stationed closer to the scene, but one was responding to a caller with back pain and the other was broken down at the time.

Fox 2 News Headlines


Rescue crews were unable to save 6-year-old Michael Chavez after pulling him from the burning home.

His 4-year-old brother, Julio Chavez, is said to be in “extremely critical” condition.

Firefighters have expressed their sadness and outrage on Facebook – upset that no medic came to the house to help the boys. A source with Detroit EMS is also furious over the decisions made Tuesday morning. The source tells Local 4 that medics from a station at Joy and Southfield were called to the fire, when two other ambulances are stationed closer to the house. One of those ambulances was out on a what’s being called a “minor” run when the fire broke out, the next closest ambulance, Local 4 was told is broken down.

Both firefighters and medics are blaming Detroit’s city council and Mayor Dave Bing for allowing the city’s ambulance fleet to fall into such bad shape that ambulances’ are taken out of service and not repaired.

Maurielle Lue, WJBK-TV:

The boys were home alone asleep in an upstairs bedroom.

In a rare news conference, Executive Fire Commissioner Don Austin defended his team.

“First of all, when you have a cardiac arrest, you respond to the nearest, appropriate medical facility,” he said. “I don’t know the victim’s status. Most people die from a fire not from burns, but from smoke inhalation.”

“Squad Four immediately started CPR, loaded them into their squad vehicle,” Austin added.

“We’re the only city in the state that does not respond an EMS rig to every single fire,” said retired EMS worker Mike O’Neill. 

With more than 130,000 calls a year and ten to twelve working units at any given time, it’s no secret the resources are limited. Commissioner Austin says Detroiters are getting the best coverage available, but sometimes the best just isn’t good enough.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Matt

    Very sad story, and I wish it didn’t happen. But why was a four and six year old left alone sleeping in the house in the first place?

  • Fire21

    OMG, the video of that mother is heart-rending! God grant her peace!

    It seems that without an EMS unit responding, and some firefighters in Detroit not even trained to CPR levels, everyone within the city is placed between a rock and a hard place. It’s not the firefighters’ fault, it’s not the EMS responders’ fault. I’m not sure it’s anyone’s fault, since funds are so low. Sometimes we just have to face the fact that terrible things happen.

    But, perhaps if the leadership of the various emergency agencies would inform the public about how dire things are, maybe something could be done. God knows, for the crews, it’s gotta be a totally helpless feeling.

  • 8truck

    “Detroiters are getting the best service possible” That’s a bunch of BS. These douchebags don’t care about the public. They keep stuffing their pockets while the city’s last defenses are falling apart.

  • Dickey

    Or maybe some remedial training on how to be a parent and not leave your young kids home alone would work too.

  • No.1 Statter Fan from Virginia

    Those guys are tired, and worn out from their working conditions. This is not the first time something like this has happened-several years ago the local detroit paper put out a expose on faulty ladder trucks/pumper that were still used to respond to fires in which children also died. Detroit fire, ya’ll are all in my prayers. To the REAL firemen.

  • mdff

    If I read the story as accurate it states that Detroit has 10-12 EMS units working in the city to handle approximately 130,000 calls per year. That cannot be right, could someone verify that information? I also cannot believe that not all Detroit Fire personel do not have CPR and some sort of basic EMS training. If any of this is correct Detroit is even worse off then any of us not completely familiar with their perilous situation.

  • mark

    What a mess.

    There are no winners in this entire situation, other than the politicians who have been stealing from the citizens for the last ?? years.

    I’ve said it before, there needs to be an entire cleaning of house of all administrative positions in the entire city and county gov’t down there. That is the only way things will ever change.

  • Commenter

    A damn shame.

    For those who condemn those who call us, where does it say these kids were alone in the house? Video won’t play for me.

    Saving lives and property requires dual role cross trained personnel. There can be a non-emergency prehospital care and transport back-end, but the front end has to be fire based EMS, especially when staffing is tight.

    Detroit has the personnel to put 260 or more people on the street each day. 4 men fire company and 2 man fire/ems unit gets Detroit 42 stations staffed and 8 overhead personnel.

    Dropping to 5 man stations gets Detroit 51 stations and 5 overhead personnel.

    Dropping to bare 4 man stations gets more than 60 stations.

    At least part of the blame for this event is Detroit’s Fire union’s repeated refusal to embrace EMS.

    • mark

      The news report says home alone. Based on that, is why you are seeing those comments.

      So, why were they left alone? That isn’t an appropriate age to be left alone. I believe it’s termed child endangerment or abandonment.

      As for the rest, typical blather. The only thing missing is a bumper turretpump-and-roll. Yes, Detroit firemen should know CPR and basic first aid. No, they do not need to be cross-trained, they run far too many actual structure fires to even consider running medicals.

      Typical running off of they mouth from Commenter again.

      • Commenter

        Detroit regularly “dumps the monitor” at structure fires. Bumper turrets and pump-and-roll would let them do it faster and by using fewer of their limited, too-busy-for-EMS personnel. The only reason to oppose them is because they’re out of your rather limited comfort zone.

        I don’t care if every company is first due on a working fire every day they go to work (they’re not), they still have time to respond to EMS calls and save those live endangered there.

        I completely support the idea of assessing patients and turning the 80% of them that aren’t remotely emergent over to non-emergency, non-firefighter EMS transport units.

  • Mark

    This is no doubt a tragedy and I feel for the parents, but let’s think about our Brothers and Sisters that do not have any EMS unit’s rolling behind them to help save their butt’s when they get hurt and burned etc.

    This system is completely non-functional!

  • Anonymous

    Dont know how Detroit EMS runs their system, but if EMS is repsponding to a low acuity call like back pain and get a call for a high acuity like unresponsive or arrest, we divert to the higher acuity call. Back pain can wait.

    The answer isnt Fire based EMS, it never has been and it never will. Thats like suggesting mechanic-based legal services

  • Wenzday

    They dont search upstairs unless someone calls in to report that upstairs might be occupied?

    • LFD43

      Wenzday – Where did you hear someone say that firefighters do not search unless a caller reports there might be people trapped?

      I must have missed that. *sarcasm*

      Of course they searched the entire house. It appears the kids were found very quickly. Sadly, it was not enough to save one of them.

  • John

    For those that haven’t seen BURN, most of the 6 firefighters that were injured in the building collapse a couple years ago were transported by Squads because there was no EMS available.

  • Johnny Awesome

    One Word, DETROIT…

  • John

    Commenter, you don’t know anything about Detroit. The daily manpower is approx 150, not 250. There may be almost 800 personnel on the books, but DFD is on a 48 hour week, dozens of firefighters are out with injuries, and the average age of the guys on the job is about 45. It’s not just the fire duty that is exhausting-the pay is so low the guys all need second jobs.

    Your 60 station plan doesn’t allow for double houses-don’t even suggest quints, DFD hasn’t bought a new rig in 5 years and can’t keep the rigs they have in service.

    DFD can’t afford to crosstrain either fire or EMS, they don’t have the time, and isn’t cost effective when your junior guys are 10-15 years in. The union would have accepted EMS response if the city would have guaranteed to to provide the training, equipment, and enough companies in service to handle the workload, but they wouldn’t. You see how overwhelmed Detroit EMS is, do you really think having fire companies sitting with back pain and flu patients is the right plan?

    • FireCapt

      You right on target with the injuries and manpower (It actually has dropped to as low as 130 on a shift, a little birdie on the 3rd floor gave me the numbers). The city has now decided unless it is life threating, surgeries to repair those injuries will not be granted. I think I smell lawsuit because anyone on injury has a limited time on that status before they force a duty disability on them, which may be their ultimate goal. Now the city will have to spend a large amount to fight the suits that are sure to follow, I know I’d be hiring a lawyer right now to challenge the order.

  • cappy

    dito all of the above

  • VolFFinNC

    Such a tragedy that a child was lost and my prayers go out to his family and I wish for a speedy recovery for the other child.

    Now what makes absolutely no sense to me is not having at least 1 EMS unit respond to a structure fire. Not only for possible injured civilians but if something happens to the Brothers and Sisters on scene EMS is already there and ready to start treatment without the need to wait for a unit to come to the scene!

    For our area we always have an EMS unit(s) run structure fire calls and stage just in case they are needed and should we not need them they are allowed to clear up and be on their way and it works. Also we’re all trained in CPR and basic first aid which I think is something every FF should know and it doesn’t take long to take the courses. Things are different in the “big city” though and their situation is a lot different than ours here.

    • Mark too

      Your response leads me to think that you aren’t fully understanding the situation in Detroit.

      It isn’t a situation of choosing to not send an EMS unit to building fires. It’s a situation of NOT having ANY available EMS units to send due to not having adequate EMS units on duty because they don’t have enough EMS units in working order to keep enough crews on duty.

  • FF

    To Commenter…
    EMS is not the savior of the fire service. FF’ss should know CPR and first aid. EMS units should be staffed by medics. Its as simple as that. If you dont get that you never will.

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  • Mid West Chief

    Commentator is spot on. The union fought against being part of any type of first responder system as far back as I know…..the mid 70s. All thought I agree the EMS system is another means of ” free taxi service” and needs to be revamped, the union has never offered a solution. “John” don’t drink the kool aid, the staffing issues can only be addressed by the suppression division playing a role in the EMS delivery system. Your president needs to re-evaluate this position. He has been a staunch opponent of this concept for the last 25 years.

  • FireCapt

    Back in the early 70’s (when I first went on the job) when EMS came about, the city didn’t want the firefighters to be cross trained. The city felt that they could pay the medics less than the firefighters and put them on a differnt work schedule. The firefighters were actually for continuing to respond to medical runs, just as they had been doing in the past before EMS was created in 1972. This brought about a lot of hard feelings between the the union and the city. The firefighters were cut out with no input and the city went forward with its own program. I never undestood exactly where the city stood and why they were so against an actual fire based system but continued with their desire to have a seperate EMS division.

    Then in the late 90’s, the firefighters and the city were in discussions for a movement to fire based EMS. The firefighters had thier stand and the city had thiers. The firefighters wanted the city to pay for the medic training and a 5% increase in pay for medics. The department actually had many trained medics over the years but were never recertified. The city had begun to train the firefighters in 1st responder and many firefighters completed the program. The problem was that the city wasn’t going to offer any type of continued training in the firest responder program, so they never bothered to add the training for the recert program.

    The city went and hired a consultant group to put together an in depth study of the transition. The consultants report stated that the city’s cost for cross training the firefighters was high and because of the number of runs being added (approx 70,000 to 75,000 runs a year more) they didn’t have enough appartus to cover the entire 139 sq miles without adding at least 12 new companies to handle the addeed work load between fires and medical runs.

    The administration, EMS Chief and the Myor’s office decided it was to costly to convert to a complete fire based system. It wasn’t brought up again until just recently but the money problem is still there.

    This doesn’t cover everything but is at the core of what happened.

    The city chose the system, not the firefighters.

  • Commenter

    I don’t care who chose it, or who’s at fault. Quite simply you can do more with flexible employees rather than stove-piped employees. If your mission is to save lives, you’ll save more with EMS than with fire — you have to do both, but after the first pump and the first aerial, the manpower could arrive in city buses, ambulances, dump trucks, it doesn’t matter.

    As for quints – yes, the city or state should buy a dozen quints. I have no doubt that Detroit could get grants to do so, everyone knows their plight. Worst case, detroit would have to give up 6-7 guys to pay for 12 quints over 15 years. No one likes losing positions, but, it would benefit the citizens.

    150 FFs + 48 Medics = 198 FF/EMT/Medics
    198 on duty = 39 stations with 5 firefighter/EMT (or Paramedics) staffing 39 fire trucks and 39 ALS/BLS ambulances and 3 overhead personnel.

    Fire based EMS doesn’t necessarily mean fire engines on flu calls. 39 ambulances means being able to send an ambulance instead of a fire truck, especially if Detroit sends a private ambulance to take low-acuity patients to the hospital.

    • FireCapt

      Geez, don’t shoot the messenger please. I’m only trying to point out the facts of how this entire fiasco began and the changes that were suggested and went nowhere.

      You may be correct to a large extent but the fact of the matter is the city chose this system in the early 70’s with no imput from the firefighters who were already doing medical runs previous to that time. Even with that, I doubt you know much about the city and its operations, the number of fires, medical and other runs along with the constant shortage of not only ambulances, fire apparatus and staffing but the inept appointees that kept getting chosen to run the administration itself over the last 40 years. It basically comes down to who makes the decisions by those appointed by the mayor to so.

      The city chose 2 seperate systems and pitted those 2 against each other. They knew exactly what they were doing and got what they wanted. When we discussed changing over the city decided no, they weren’t going to go that way. How were the members themselves going to overrule the Mayor, City Council and inept administartors? That wasn’t going to be allowed in any way shape or form not to mention the political ideals of those who elect the city leaders who believed everything the politicians told them regardless of whether they were right or wrong. Not even a decent (in my opinion) public realtions campaign worked because the residents chose to believe the politicians rather than anyone else.

      As far as private ambulances, the medics union didn’t like that idea much but would not have been able to prevent it. Although at one time the city did try some private operations, those private companies began to refuse to transport because their own costs were higher verses what they were able to actually collect. After that, every private ambulance company didn’t want to service Detroit because of the lack of profits and it is still that way today for the most part.

      The department admin and the city leaders themselves wouldn’t even set up refresher courses for those that held their first responder certs.

      Do I totally disagree with your statement, no but there’s not much you can do when the city says NO,NO and NO. The city leaders don’t live in the world of reality and that’s a fact.

      The people within city government make those decisions and for the most part don’t want any input from the members themselves. Their attitude has always been, do as I say not as I do. It’s sad really but that’s life in Detroit such as it is. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the reasons why I chose to retire when I did rather than continue to try and fight a system that did not chose any reality but their own idea of that reality. The entire city has been ill run for 40 years. That’s why they’re in the position they find themselves in today, little police protection, poor fire services, poor staffing levels and really poor medical responses, broke and heading for bankruptcy. I don’t blame the Medics, Police or Firefighters, I blame those who make the ultimate decisions on these subjects.

      I could write a dissertation on the subject but it wouldn’t change the facts of the political system that runs Detroit.

  • FireCapt


    I think you should send your resume to the mayor and request to become the Commissioner and you can come in and take on the political system that’s Detroit. I can gaurantee one thing for sure. No matter what effective changes you would want to make, your ideas would go nowhere and you wouldn’t have a job after 6 months of battling that system unless you go along with the program.

    Detroit is simply a city full of appointed and elected individuals that line their pockets at any cost. If you had any understanding of the financial quagmire that is the City of Detroit you may gain an understanding of what pay to play is and how money has been continually mis-spent and at times literaly gained illegally. I’m talking hundreds of millions of dollars over the years and not chump change.

    I have no doubt you would say, get the state and the feds on it. Well the feds are but the Governor is afraid of the social discourse (if you get my meaning) that would come about with the mentality of a large amount of the citizens that feel Detroit should be left alone and no outsiders, even the Governor should attempt to right the ship. Because of this, Detroit is the only city that is broke and hasn’t been appointed an emergency financial manager. Eventually I think it has to happen and believe me, after living there for over 53 years before I moved out, the city will explode and it will be another 1967 all over again.

  • Commenter

    Thank you for the insight FireCapt. Politics control government services, and politics is the art of the possible. As a KIC, i’m not governed by politics.

    • FireCapt

      You state “politics is the art of the possible”. Well unfortunately we are talking about Detroit politics, there are no possibilities with, in my opinion ignorant, uneducated and race card pulling elected and appointed cronies who only have their best interests at heart and not the general publics, which onfortunately isn’t much smarter than the leaders they elect.

      Detroit is by all means, probaly the most dysfunctional (administrative wise) city in the U.S.