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Detroit firefighters union calls for action after firefighters became trapped in burning building

Posted: 5:57 PM, Feb 06, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-07 00:56:33Z
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DETROIT (WXYZ) — The Detroit Firefighters Association is calling for action after a terrifying fire. Four firefighters found themselves trapped inside a burning building.

The fire started on January 31, just before midnight at a vacant grocery store at Van Dyke and Gratiot.

7 Action News has obtained the dispatch recording. In it you hear the command officer on the scene report there are four firefighters trapped in the building.

A second alarm is then called for, so back-up responds. Was that enough?

“This incident right here, we are very lucky that we didn’t lose some of our members,” said Mike Nevin, the President of the Detroit Firefighters Association.

Nevin says three firefighters are now off the job, recovering from non-life-threatening burns. He believes their injuries could have been prevented had the department had different policies.

“The bullshit stops now. Stop. Tell the truth. We are undermanned and understaffed,” said Nevin.

He shared with 7 Action News copies of Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration complaints he filed asking for more Rapid Intervention Crew Training at the department.

Such training would teach crews how to best react if a firefighter is down.

Nevin says they need more training and manpower. He says the dispatch recording shows that no one called out Mayday, which would clear the radio traffic for the search and make sure everyone knew they had an emergency situation.

“We don’t have a Mayday policy. We don’t even know how to implement it,” said Nevin.

7 Action News went to the Detroit Public Safety Headquarters to ask about these concerns.

“It is a ridiculous accusation,” said Chief Robert Distelrath. “We do have a Mayday policy . The appropriate number of people were dispatched."

Distrelrath showed WXYZ a copy of the department’s Mayday Policy, which he says is posted in every firehouse.

He says firefighters are trained on it annually. He said just last fall every firefighter was provided with a radio with a Mayday button. They can push that button if they are facing an emergency.

He says staffing is regularly assessed and, as the city grows, he expects the manpower to increase.

He says since he became chief he has added staff.

Firefighters involved in the incident attended “battalion school” on Wednesday, a meeting that allows them to voice concerns and look for ways to better respond in the future. The department believes safety is number one priority.

Distelrath worked as a firefighter before becoming chief.

“I was in the engine house for 32 years,” he said. “I am a firefighter.”

“We are asking for help,” said Nevin of his message to the public. “I am calling 911 to you. Call the mayor’s office. Put pressure on these people. We need training. We need help.”