Apparatus Symposium—the Detroit Experience

Two years ago, retired deputy commissioner Craig Dougherty, Detroit (MI) Fire Departent (DFD), presented at the FDSOA’s Apparatus Specification and Maintenance Symposium, after news had leaked that the DFD’s apparatus fleet was in dire need of repair. At the time, none of the aerials had had annual inspections and only one was deemed suitable for manned master stream operations. Dougherty, then chief, hit the topic head on and discussed it and what the department was working on to fix the problem.

Two years later, Dougherty was back at the event. Now retired, Dougherty spoke with pride about what he had been able to accomplish fleet-wide. In the interim, Detroit filed for bankruptcy, and there were a number of challenges before Dougherty including department traditions, which sometimes can be harder to navigate than the political waters.

After navigating through the political and bankruptcy waters, the department secured a loan that totaled $24.5 million. With it, the DFD was able to add/replace 15 ambulances; replace 10 engines; and purchase 10 rapid-response vehicles, 21 SUVs, and 16 fire marshal vehicles. Additionally during Dougherty’s tenure, the department acquired new SCBA for the department, which introduced 45-minute cylinders into DFD’s PPE ensemble. A huge shift in the DFD was having firefighters trained to be EMTs.

Today, after having to brown out or close multiple companies, the department has opened seven companies. All aerial ladders are NDT-inspected, and all have had their yearly inspections. Twelve aerial ladders are fully inspected and certified. The DFD has taken delivery of 10 new pumpers and has six on order. At the time of Dougherty’s first presentation, the DFD had three aerial platforms all out of service, but today all three are in service and certified.

As the session wrapped up, Dougherty took questions, some of which included the plans for aerial replacement and how the department improved the fleet maintenance program to help avoid previous mistakes. As far as the aerials, the plan before Dougherty’s retirement was to replace them at a rate of two per year. In terms of maintenance, much of it is outsourced, and that was a big part of the ten-pumper order. The DFD, according to Dougherty, wanted to go with an apparatus manufacturer that had a maintenance facility nearby and would service the rigs. 

Dougherty also mentioned that the original plan was to also replace pumpers at a rate of four per year. However, since his retirement, leadership of Detroit has changed. Because of the change, he was not sure if those two replacement programs were still going to move forward. It is a reality of leadership change anywhere and is not specific to Detroit. Dougherty is hopeful that what started under his leadership will continue.

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