Proof! Size Doesn't Matter!
A Historical Vignette
by Tom Parquette
In 1973 Coleman Young was soundly elected mayor of Detroit. Young had a history of activism. In the 1930's Young was to become a union organizer/activist while employed at Ford Motor Company. He was fired. Later, Young was a member and activist for various leftist organizations which led him into politics in the 1960's. He was elected five times to the office of Mayor of Detroit, all as the city shrank in population, finance and respect. One of Young's favorite mantras in office when introducing himself was, "I am the MFIC!" The 'IC' part meant 'In Charge' I'll let you figure out the 'MF' part. Young took over the city and by his actions made it clear the old order was over. Graft, corruption, favoritism were all endemic to Detroit.
Mayor Coleman Young
Following the twenty years of Young, Dennis Archer tried his hand at stabilizing what was already in free fall. Archer was largely regarded as a good, principled man but his two terms in office were enough to convince him that he couldn't or wouldn't be able to turn the ship that was Detroit around. The graft and corruption which Young introduced to Detroit or perhaps expanded upon, was too entrenched.
Mayor Kwami Kilpatrick
And following Archer, the election produced none other than now-felon Kwame Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick only expanded on and created new twists on the fleecing of Detroit which Young had initiated. From a scandelous affair with a staffer to crooked contracts and skim, Kilpatrick was convicted and sentenced to jail of some initial charges. The 'other shoe' is still waiting to drop on him and though released from his original sentence, there is a strong liklihood he will return to the graybar hotel. And now we have Detroit Mayor Dave Bing. Basketball Hall of Famer from the Detroit Pistons. Bing retired from the Pistons and formed an auto parts manufacturing business. He moved to Detroit with the sole purpose in mind of running for mayor. Well, be careful what you wish for, Dave.
Mayor David Bing
Detroit's population has fallen to 713,777 as of the 2010 census. That represents a loss of 25% just since 2000. That is the lowest population level for Detroit since 1910. Once great Detroit is fading fast. Dave Bing is calling for a recount. It seems if he can conjure up another 40,000 or so people, Detroit can get more federal funds. Good luck with that, Dave. Detroit is a city littered with the shells of some 80,000 abandoned houses. Some blocks have only one occupied dwelling with the rest vacant. Arson is the pastime of choice for many of the residents as the city can and has experienced some 20-25 arsons daily! If you need a picture of what Afghanistan looks like, simply drive through Detroit. If you've seen the movie 'Escape From New York', you've seen Detroit.
Detroit neighborhood (Google Satellite view)
So, "What's this got to do with the fire service," you ask? Plenty. The ongoing saga of the Detroit Fire Department is part and parcel to this decline, as is the Police Department and all city services. Layoffs, brownouts, equipment failures, all are epidemic to Detroit and are certainly festering elsewhere today as well. One recent example of the corruption factor in the city relates to Detroit east side company Ladder 19 house. The firefighters can't park their trucks inside the house because the floor is caving in and structurally unsound. Back in 2004, the city allegedly set aside $400,000 for a new floor. It hasn't been repaired. The city staff posited that perhaps there was a clerical error and the floor was meant for Engine 19 instead. The problem remains that there is no 'Engine 19' in Detroit. But wait! Engine 19 received $210,000 for a new floor as well. The officials can't explain what happened to the $610,000. Engine 22 'received' $400,000 for a new floor as well. Oops! Engine 22, located on Michigan Avenue was decommissioned 30 years ago. 'Ladder 22' didn't get a floor either. But it did 'get' $75,000 for a feasibility study.
Engine 22 House (missing the new floor)
Dave Statter has done a formidable job of following the stress and trauma of the Detroit Fire Department. I highly suggest following his continuing series on this debacle that was Detroit. Detroit firefighters are a determined and hard working group. Bluntly put, they are screwed over at every turn and still keep trying to do the job they feel called to do. Oh, problems exist within, they do everywhere to some degree. Drinking on the job is a serious problem in the DFD. Many if not the majority of firefighters reject and despise the occurrence. Detroit's Executive Fire Commisioner Donald Austin, a transplant from LA, threw down the gauntlet against drinking on the job and demanded to impose a zero tolerance policy. The union quickly reminded him there was a 'tolerance policy' in their contract but it wasn't 'zero.' Austin is, as is his superior Dave Bing, clearly over his head with Detroit. Follow the Detroit coverage here with Firegeezer and Statter as well. The subject is clearly worthy of a volume of books when incorporating fact, history and the anecdotal issues effecting this once great, now decayed city.
Fire Commissioner Austin
Detroit FD Headquarters (scheduled to be replaced)
Okay. Okay. What has any of this got to do with the kitschy title Proof! Size Doesn't Matter, anyway? As honorable Shaolin monk, Kwai Chang Caine once said on TV's Kung Foo, "Patience, Grasshopper, Patience."
IF Detroit is the 'large' (once fourth largest US city, etc. etc.) then what would be the 'small' in fair comparison?
Tomorrow, join us again as we motor away from the "Motor City" er,…."The Aresenal of Democracy", err,……."Hitsville", oh, you get it. Follow us along to see if 'size' really matters in the conclusion of 'Proof! Size Doesn't Matter.'
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