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Outbreak of fires in Flint, MI after firefighters laid off
FLINT, Michigan — Burton’s fire chief to Flint: “We’re not responding.”
In the midst of a rash suspected arsons, the layoff of 23 Flint firefighters and the shuttering of two of the city’s five fire stations last week, Burton and other fire departments around Genesee County are telling Flint that it is on its own.
“I can’t solve the city’s problems,” said Burton Fire Chief Doug Halstead. “I have taxpayers in Burton who are my first priority. Those taxpayers are the ones that I will take care of.”
Oak Street FireCity of Flint firefighters were work to extinguish a fire completely engulfing a home at 2:30 this morning at 927 Oak Street. The house was on the city's demolition list. The house was completely destroyed and a neighboring home sustained minor damage . (Sarah A. Miller | The Flint Journal)
Clio and Davison have already told the city it can’t rely on them for mutual fire aid and the Grand Blanc Fire Commission is expected to take up the question this month.
When Flint sent out a plea for fire help early Thursday, Burton and Grand Blanc were not among the seven fire departments that sent firefighters into the city.
With two of its closest neighboring fire departments absent, Flint saw firefighters from 20 miles away in Linden and Gaines trek into the city to join a mutual aid response that included Swartz Creek, Mundy Township, Flint Township, Flushing and Mt. Morris.
The fires — five in a three-hour span — damaged or destroyed two occupied homes and six vacant houses.
Eugene McBride, 39, said he had to spray his own home with a hose as he watched his neighbors’ homes on Zimmerman Street burn during the string of fire calls Thursday morning.
Police officers were the first on scene at Zimmerman and fire crews from Flint Township, Flushing, Mount Morris, Linden and Gaines responded while Flint was tied up with three other fires, according to the Flint fire department.
McBride said once the crews from across the county arrived they did a great job extinguishing the fire that destroyed the home next door to him and damaged another, but he is worried about the possibility that Flint could lose mutual aid assistance.
“That isn’t fair at all,” he said. “Why wouldn’t you help us?”
Gary Bernard, 54, who lives across the street from the fires, said fire departments should work together to get through tough economic times.
Oak Street FireFlames from a burning home at 927 Oak Street in Flint outline a neighboring home as City of Flint firefighters work to extinguish the fire early Thursday morning. Flint firefighters responded to five fires in three hours Thursday morning. (Sarah A. Miller | The Flint Journal)
“Flint needs help, Davison needs help, Clio needs help,” said Bernard. “You guys band together until we get through this hurdle.”
Flint firefighters have scrambled to fight nearly 40 fires in the nine days since Mayor Dayne Walling held a March 24 press conference abut the layoffs of 23 firefighters and 46 police officers.
The day after the city layoffs took effect March 25, Halstead said he made the decision to stop responding to Flint with permission from Mayor Charles Smiley last week after his firefighters responded to three calls in Flint in two days.
He said no on the fourth call and sent a letter to Flint saying the mutual aid relationship is over.
Flint spokesperson Dawn Jones said that Public Safety Director Alvern Lock’s comments about mutual aid in a press conference last week still stand, and declined to comment further on Thursday.
Grand Blanc Chief Jim Harmes also declined comment and would not say if his department had refused mutual aid Thursday. The Grand Blanc Fire Commission is expected to discuss the issue at its April 20 meeting, said Harmes.
Flint firefighters’ union president Raul Garcia said he doesn’t blame communities for making these decisions, but said he appreciates them especially after Thursday. Garcia said Flint should be reaching out to neighboring communities for help.
“With the manpower the we have, we need them,” he said.
The Davison Area Fire Authority decided last year to stop responding to communities that need assistance because of budget cuts, said Davison City Manager Dale Martin.
“We’re not going to be responsible for essentially covering gaps in anyone’s coverage due to budget decisions,” said Martin.
The Clio Fire Department also decided last year to stop responding in Flint.
Stone Street FireFlint Fire Department works to put out a blaze at an abandon home on Stone Street near Hurley Hospital Thursday afternoon March 25, 2010. Hollyn Johnson | The Flint Journal
Clio Fire Chief Gary Domerese said Flint needs to create a policy to call in its own off-duty firefighters and equipment before calling for outside help.
“My position was that true mutual aid is when you exhausted all your resources before you call for help,” he said. “That’s what we do in the outcounty and that’s what I expect in the city of Flint.”
The Clio and Davison officials both said they would assist in a catastrophic situation.
Communities like Flint Township and Fenton said the future of their mutual aid with Flint depends on the number of calls they get for help.
Flint Township Fire Chief John Ringwleski said the department helped extinguish a rash of fires Thursday morning for four hours and has been called two or three times in the past week.
“We’re going to evaluate as time goes on,” he said.
Fenton Fire Chief Bob Cairnduff said his department hasn’t been asked to help Flint yet but said expects that to change if more communities turn Flint down.
“The biggest thing is mutual aid is reciprocal, it goes both ways,” he said.
Photos of some fires. FLINT, Michigan — Here's a look at some photos submitted by Tarra Sifferman of the first blaze firefighters were called to Thursday morning.
Five fires damaged or destroyed eight homes in a rash of fires spanning three hours Thursday morning, continuing a rash of blazes in the city after 23 firefighters were laid off last week.
List of nightly house fire counts
Map of fires