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Million dollar mistake? Detroit fire truck purchase under scrutiny

Posted at 11:35 PM, Dec 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-22 07:18:01-05

The head of the Detroit Fire Department tells us for years the city has badly needed to improve its fleet and now they are spending millions to do just that.

But, one of the purchases is raising eyebrows and the city is responding.

"We had engines that leaked water. Pickup trucks for squads. We weren't on life support, we were in hospice," says Firefighters Union President Mike Nevin.

In the past couple years, more than $20 million has been spent to upgrade new ambulances, fire engines, lights, sirens, clothing, helmets, body armor, rescue gear and even hearing protection.

Fire Commissioner Eric Jones says, "All of our energy, the administration, men and women in the field, its all been dedicated to providing professional services, saving lives and property."

Yet, some are raising new questions about how tax dollars are spent and who's scrutinizing the process.

For instance, more than a million dollars was spent on a demo model platform truck with a ladder, that didn't fit inside a fire house it was initially assigned to.

Ethics expert and former federal prosecutor Peter Henning says it clearly could have been avoided.

"Get out a tape measurer and make sure it fits into your garage. They're using our money, I want to make sure my tax dollars are used effectively especially for something as important as firefighting," says Henning.

Deputy Commissioner Dave Fornell oversees many big ticket purchases, and has a background as a former sales rep for some of the same companies he now buys from.

The Commissioner tells us Fornell was hired with full knowledge of his past experience, and it's actually been a benefit having his expertise. Jones also says Fornell has a great working relationship with the union, and does not solely make decisions on purchases. 

A spokesman for the city says a committee reviews all major purchases, but would not provide a list of names when asked.

Both Nevin and Jones say the truck purchase in question was desperately needed and the demo model was an alternative to an 18 month wait.

"The only issue I had was lettering it prior to deploying it. The ladder fits into a fire house. The ladder is serving the citizens of Detroit," says Jones.

He adds that no one was disciplined for the truck being labeled incorrectly and re-assigned to another station.