Detroit Fire Commissioner proposes letting vacant buildings 50% involved burn to the ground. Donald Austin asked to make cut in next year's budget.

Commissioner Donald Austin last June when he brought up the issue of tactics for vacant structure fires, saying he wanted a clear indication of a life hazard before entering. Click here for that story.

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Detroit Fireground Images from Dennis Walus

Donald Austin Jr., the Executive Fire Commissioner of Detroit, has some novel ideas to deal with a 15 percent cut in the 2012-2013 budget for his department. Austin told Tammy Stables Battaglia at Detroit Free Press, “I’ll give him every penny I can without cutting people”. But the commissioner does expect to lose firefighters through attrition.

Austin’s focus is on the major fire problem for Detroit, vacant structures. The city lost 200,000 residents in the past decade.

The commissioner’s ideas from Detroit Free Press:

• Allowing vacant homes that are more than 50% ablaze when firefighters arrive to burn to the ground, as long as no lives are in jeopardy. The approach isn’t feasible in high winds or other dangerous conditions, Austin said.

• Asking the U.S. Navy’s construction division — the Seabees — to raze 10,000 vacant and dilapidated homes.

• Creating a demolition unit in the Fire Department, much like the Tractor Company he created in Los Angeles that cut breaks around wildfires, maintained hillside fire roads and overhauled large industrial fires. Detroit’s crew would use heavy equipment to raze the remnants of newly burned buildings, he said.

Reducing the number of vacant homes and buildings, and in turn cutting the number of fires, would not only save money but improve the look of the city. Austin told the paper, “One reason people are not coming back to the city is because it looks like hell.”

Union president Dan McNamara doesn’t like the idea unless the structure is on a demolition list compiled by the city.

Last June Commissioner Austin also made headlines when he told firefighters he didn’t want them to enter vacant structures without a clear indication of a life hazard.

This news comes on the same day the documentary about the Detroit Fire Department, “Burn”, debuts at the Tribeca Film Festival.

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Above is video from Steve Redick’s trip to Detroit earlier this month.  Check out Steve’s books about the Chicago Fire Department.