By Zack Burgess
On Monday the Detroit Free Press reported that Detroit firefighters will not be allowed on the hydraulic ladders on the department's fleet of aerial trucks unless there is an "immediate threat to life."
The reason? Trucks have not been inspected for years.
According to Fire Commissioner Donald Austin, firefighters will not be allowed on the ladders during water tower operations until the inspections are done. And while Austin stated that the effect on fighting fires will be negligible, the head of the firefighters union said differently.
"What this means is, it greatly complicates our work, and it really makes it difficult for any fire that's over a couple stories high," said Dan McNamara, president of the Detroit firefighters union to the Free Press. "It minimizes our ability to put the fire out and also minimizes us to be safe as we're doing ventilation and rescue operations."
Every five years the aerial trucks should be tested for metal fatigue, cracks and strains. Even more important, they should be inspected annually.
In a statement provided by the city to the Free Press, Austin said, "no aerial ladders will have firefighters on them unless there is an immediate threat to life. If a ladder must be used, every effort will be made to properly support the ladder."
In the meantime, a private contractor is scheduled to be hired to inspect the equipment, which everyone hopes will be completed in six weeks.
The department has 19 ladder trucks, which are used to quickly get on roofs of commercial buildings and homes. They also are used for rescue work and spraying water on fires. The hydraulic aerial ladders are about 65-100 feet when extended and are used numerous times throughout the day.
In the meantime, firefighters will have to carry saws and axes up an extension ladder, which will make their work even more arduous.
This is just another blow to an already struggling department. The budget has been cut to $160 million – down $23 million from last year. This is despite receiving $22.5-million in federal grant money to help reinstate firefighter jobs and purchase equipment.