By David Brown
27 June 2012
On Monday, Democratic Party Mayor Dave Bing of Detroit announced plans to lay off 164 out of the city’s 881-member fire department. This amounts to 18 percent of the current number of firefighters and could have disastrous consequences. The city’s fire protection service has been steadily cut and there have already been fatal house fires associated with reduced coverage.
These cuts are part of the city’s “consent agreement” with the state of Michigan, whereby Bing and the rest of the Detroit City Council agreed to carry out over $200 million in cuts. In all, the fire department’s budget will be cut by $23 million. This includes not only the layoffs, but the elimination of seven of the city’s 59 fire companies.
In his announcement, Bing attempted to downplay the significance of the cuts. First, he claimed the city would most likely rehire 108 of the laid off firefighters if it gets a $10.7 million grant from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) in September. He further asserted in his press release that most of the remaining 56 firefighters would be rehired as older firefighters retired.
Both these claims are dubious. The FEMA grant is far from guaranteed, and the mayor’s priorities have consistently been to cut the budget and funnel money to private corporate interests, no matter the social cost. His second method for rhetorically minimizing the cuts was to point out that there are four times more calls for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) than for fire suppression. So, according to this logic, the cuts to fire protection are acceptable.