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In what appears to be a case of do as I say and not as I do, WXYZ-TV has posted two pictures of the top brass of Detroit’s Fire Department smiling and posing for pictures in front of burning buildings. These pictures, apparently from four-years-ago, surfaced on social media shortly after Commissioner Eric Jones announced disciplinary action against a group of firefighters for posing in front of a burning home New Year’s Eve to commemorate the retirement of a battalion chief. Jones was quoted as saying initially, “There are a lot of ways to celebrate a retirement. Taking a photo in front of a building fire is not one of them.”
The New Year’s Eve photo was covered in news stories as far away as New Zealand. It was seen as a black eye not just for Detroit firefighters but the fire service in general.
One of the two pictures that have surfaced shows Commissioner Jones smiling and posing with Deputy Fire Commissioner Dave Fornell as a building burns behind them. The other shows Fornell alone in front of a building fire and had been used to illustrate an April 10, 2016 news article about Fornell getting the Detroit position. The article was in two connected Troy, Ohio newspapers. Troy is Fornell’s home town.
Fornell told WXYZ-TV that the pictures of him posing and smiling while buildings are burning were taken before he became deputy commissioner in Detroit. But the caption with the Piqua Daily Call article does not support Fornell’s claim: “Provided photo Dave Fornell poses for a photograph at his first extra-alarm fire after joining the Detroit Fire Department. The fire was a third-alarm fire in a vacant apartment building in Highland Park.”
However, the whole controversy may now go to the top of Detroit Fire after 7 Action News also obtained a picture of Fire Commissioner Eric Jones posing with Deputy Commissioner Dave Fornell in front of a burning building. Fornell told 7 Action News another picture of him was taken in 2015 before he was employed by the city.
Jones was appointed by Mayor Mike Duggan in October of 2015. Sources say this picture of Jones and Fornell was taken in January of 2016. We have asked city officials for comment.
That solo picture of Fornell, as the Troy paper wrote, appears to be taken at a Highland Park, Michigan 3-alarm fire and supports WXYZ-TV’s claim it was from January of 2016. Here is an article about that January 9, 2016 fire posted on FireEngineering.com. Click here for drone video of the fire.
Fornell’s LinkedIn page indicates he started working for the Detroit Fire Department in October of 2015.
As the Troy, Ohio articles point out, Fornell had a career in journalism in addition to his fire service career:
Besides the fire service, Fornell’s resume includes a long career in journalism, including being a photographer for the Chicago Daily News, United Press International and an editor at The New York Times. He also wrote a book on firefighting tactics and writes a blog for the website www.firehouse.com.
A 13-year member of the Casstown Fire Department who resigned as assistant chief in December 2015 when his work with the Detroit program became more extensive, Fornell said he enjoys all aspects of the fire service, both paid and volunteer.
Admittedly, I’m a hard ass when it comes to this stuff and believe no one should be posing for pictures on the fireground. It’s a bad look for firefighters and commissioners.