Loveland Technologies tracked and surveyed all 2,981 structure-damaging fires that occurred in 2015 in the City of Detroit. Here's what we found:
“Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus.”
“We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes”
The motto of the City of Detroit dates back to 1805, when a great fire burned nearly the entire city to the ground. Father Gabriel Richard, a French Roman Catholic priest who had moved to Detroit in 1798, wrote these words in the hope that the city would rebuild. It reflected the deep sense of spirit and commitment to the people of the city, which resolved into moving forward and starting anew.
In the 210 years since, Detroit has undergone a tumultuous rise and decline. After peaking at the height of the auto industry in the 1960s, the city has struggled with shrinking population and financial resources. Today over 50,000 buildings stand vacant - about 1 out of every 5 buildings in the city. Some have been empty for over 10 or 20 years, as the city lacks the money to demolish them in a timely manner. These vacant buildings, unwatched and unsecured, breed crime, vice, and most devastating of all - fire.
For over 155 years, the Detroit Fire Department has stood watch over the city of Detroit and its residents. On an average night, the men and women of the Detroit Fire Department respond to anywhere between 5 and 15 structure fires.
There are few jobs so demanding as being a firefighter in Detroit. It is a dirty, wet, exhausting job, with long hours of fighting fires in buildings ranging from small houses to giant factories, each with its hazards and dangers.
Why does Detroit have so many fires? What causes them? What are the consequences of fires on the fabric of the city?
Starting in September of 2014, Loveland Technologies began tracking all structure damaging fires as part of an effort to to quantify the causes of fires and their impact on residents, structures, neighborhoods, and the city. The goal of this report is to clearly and accurately visualize the impact of fires in Detroit, using data collected from January 1st to December 31st, 2015 by recording and transcribing fire radio audio. Loveland surveyors then visited every fire scene in person within a few days of the fire, photographing each fire and collecting information from residents and neighbors.
This deep dive into the data underlying the fire situation in the city gave us a unique perspective to observe how policy changes in the fire department and the city began to impact the fire situation over the course of the year.
The city's Hardest Hit Fund demolition program removed thousands of vacant and dangerous buildings, resulting in lower fire rates in HHF program neighborhoods compared to the citywide average. Repairs to broken fire hydrants over the summer and fall of 2015 tracked with a decline in the severity of fires. New leadership at the fire department and additional resources, including replacing ten aging fire engines in the busiest parts of the city and reopening closed stations have had the cumulative impact of slowing the fire epidemic.
Substantial challenges still remain: the tax foreclosure and eviction cycle will add to the backlog of houses that need demolition. To keep response times low, further replacements in the city's fleet of fire engines will be needed.
This report looks at one year of fires in the city, a year of transition, of setbacks and improvements. The fire situation in Detroit is still dire. In 2016, the city will face thousands of more fires, with wide-ranging consequences detailed in this report. But it is our hope and belief that a corner has been turned.