ypsi on fire

Last night, we had another meeting to discuss the concept of the Ypsilanti-centric community reporting site (code name “Spitting Cat”). After a few productive hours of work, we all went our seperate ways. Brett asked me to have a beer, but I had to get home to help Linette with the baby, so I declined. What I didn’t realize at the time was, had I stayed out with Brett, I would have been involved in his second big Ypsi reporting scoop in less than a week… You see, as Brett was sitting at the bar, he received a call from his wife informing him that the apartment building next to theirs was on fire… At that, Brett grabbed his notebook and camera and sprinted down the railroad tracks toward the blaze.

If you have a chance, check out his coverage (even if you don’t live in Ypsi). I think it illustrates perfectly why it is that we, the “Spitting Cats,” feel so strongly about this project of ours and its potential. This is a story that, had it not been for Brett, we probably wouldn’t have heard about, at least not in such detail.

If it weren’t for Brett, I wouldn’t have known, for instance, that the fire alarms didn’t sound, that the tenants suspect faulty wiring, that the first hydrant tried by the firefighters didn’t work, and that a Township engine apparently beat our own city firefighters to the scene… Brett, once again, has demonstrated to the rest of us what a community news website has the potential of being. (If he raises the bar any higher, we’ll have to kill him, but that’s beside the point.)

Here’s a quote from his post:

I am very uneasy. Last night I personally observed a building, identical in composition to my own, located only yards away, catch fire for an unknown reason. The residents were not alerted in time to same anything but the clothes on their backs. The fire departments were slow to arrive, the first responder was unable to provide water due to a faulty utility, and the company which ended up primarily solving the situation is from a township 5 miles from us.

Is this what the first sign of a bankrupt city will be like? Politicians from the top to the bottom, claiming the best government is a small government, using the Headlee Amendment and privatization campaigns to squeeze every service from the public domain, until we are left with crumbling residences, filled with code violations the city doesn’t enforce, an infrastructure they don’t maintain, and a safety department incapable of doing its job due to the limitations imposed upon it by a City Council focused primarily on being ‘Cool’.

I have spoken previously of my feelings regarding the area where I live. As the city zoning map shows, it is classified as ‘high density,’ and not surprisingly, color-coded as ‘shit brown’. It is obvious by the statements made at numerous meetings that the City of Ypsilanti intends to marginalize certain demographics by moving them from town, restoring their treasured ‘single family dwellings’, and all the while asserting that a non-existent increase in the student population requires additional residences to be constructed.

I had thought it was enough that, as a person of moderate income, I might be caught in a political game and ostracized to the other side of the river along with the rest of Ypsilanti’s working poor. Now, I grow increasingly wary of the possibility that there is more to the land use plan than simply moving undesirables away from downtown.

Congratulations, Ypsilanti. You’ve finally succeeded in scaring me to death.

UPDATE: A former member of the Holland (Michigan) Board of Public Works, who has some knowledge of how fire departments operate, offers an analysis of the situation on his site. Here are his central thoughts on two major issues:

Problem: The fire department had a long response time.
Answer: The dept. is understaffed and over-extended. The City of Holland Fire Dept. serves 39,000 people (give or take a few). Ypsilanti’s serves around 45,000, according to their website. Holland has 3 stations, two of which are manned full time. Ypsi has 1 (ONE) station, also manned full time. From what I can tell, Ypsi has one truck, two engines, a rescue and a support van. Ypsi is also a full time only department, which means that off-duty personal are called back on big fire calls. Holland, on the other hand, has one truck, three engines, one reserve engine, one medium rescue, one light rescue, a brush truck, and a tiny boat. Holland’s two full time stations are complimented by a large amount of paid on-call members, who only respond to fires and big events. I’d imagine, since Pittsfield Twp. was first on scene to Ypsi, that Ypsi has an automatic aid agreement set up to save its ass. It looks like that worked – but is that safe?

Problem: First fire hydrant attached to did not flow.
Answer: Inadequate maintanence, poor communication, poor fire department operation… all could be problems. Over winter, some fire hydrants are prone to freeze and crack, leaving them out of service. Unless the Water Dept. goes around and checks all hydrants, this problem may not be found in time to correct before a fire. A better maintanence program may be of merit. Also, the water and fire departments should talk together more often, sharing information about out-of-service hydrants. A good system should be worked out to inform the fire dept. which hydrants are unusable, even as simple as duct-taping a trash bag over the bad hyrdant (we started doing that in Holland). And, just to say… the firefighters should flow the hydrant quickly before attaching hose, just to make sure it works.

Our Mayor, by the way, has yet to respond to my note on this matter. When she does, I’ll let you know.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Former firefighter, and friend of this site, Hillary Cherry, had this to add:

Good anaylsis by the fellow from Holland, though the last census counted Ypsilanti’s population at 22,362. Holland’s is listed as 35,048. Holland also occupies almost 4 times the land area that Ypsilanti does. Also, the median income in Holland is $14,000 more. Not saying that excuses Ypsilanti’s poor maintenance, just that Ypsilanti should try harder at providing basic services and not so hard on dressing town up to look like Holland.

Also, I’m not sure exactly how Ypsilanti Fire is structured, but labor unions are more common on the east side of Michigan, while paid-on-call is the dominant paradigm elsewhere in the state. In Hamtramck, 100% of the firemen are union and full-time. In some west side towns, they still have unpaid volunteer firemen. In any event, it’s more expensive to run an east side department because Ypsilanti’s competition for hiring is Hamtramck and not Freeport.

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15 Comments

  1. Posted April 26, 2005 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    Brett did an outstanding job. My hat is off to him. I read his story with rapt interest. He reported in an observant, attentive manner. Great job. Brett is a major asset to this media venture.

  2. Posted April 27, 2005 at 4:39 am | Permalink

    brett did a great job covering that story. i like that he’s taken it upon himself to be an ypsilanti reporter for the people. i like that i have a place to go to find out what’s really going on in ypsi now that i live clear on the other side of the country. thanks for linking to him, mark.

  3. Posted April 27, 2005 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Compare his story with the one from the Ann Arbor News:

    http://www.mlive.com/news/aanews/index.ssf?/base/news-12/1114526401190210.xml

  4. Tony Buttons
    Posted April 27, 2005 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    If what Brett’s saying is true, we should do a little digging and find out what other buildings this guy owns and then demand that they be inspected ASAP.

  5. Posted April 27, 2005 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Inspections? This is Ypsilanti. Ordinance enforcement has never been high on their list of priorities. No money for that when you’ve got flowers to plant and historic buildings to demolish.

  6. Posted April 27, 2005 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Good anaylsis by the fellow from Holland, though the last census counted Ypsilanti’s population at 22,362. Hollands is listed as 35,048. Holland also occupies almost 4 times the land area that Ypsilanti does. Also, the median income in Holland is $14,000 more. Not saying that excuses Ypsilanti’s poor maintenance, just that Ypsilanti should try harder at providing basic services and not so hard on dressing town up to look like Holland.

    Also, I’m not sure exactly how Ypsilanti Fire is structured, but labor unions are more common on the east side of Michigan, while paid-on-call is the dominant paradigm elsewhere in the state. In Hamtramck, 100% of the firemen are union and full-time. In some west side towns, they still have unpaid volunteer firemen. In any event, it’s more expensive to run an east side department because Ypsilanti’s competition for hiring is Hamtramck and not Freeport.

  7. mark
    Posted April 27, 2005 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the comments, Hillary. I’ll move them to the front page.

  8. Posted April 28, 2005 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Follow up to the original post.

  9. Posted April 29, 2005 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    Follow up to the follow up.

    With surprise guest star.

  10. Mike
    Posted May 3, 2005 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Although it is true that the City of Ypsilanti’s census shows approx. 22,000 people you must remember that the City of Ypsilanti FD also covers the entire campus of EMU which houses another 20,000 students (which aren’t counted in the census) therefore a population of approx. 42,000 people is more accurate when comparing areas covered by you local FD.

  11. mark
    Posted May 3, 2005 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

    Mike, I didn

  12. JO
    Posted May 8, 2005 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    I lived in River’s Edge apartments about five years ago. There were two large fires in surrounding buildings in one summer when I lived there.
    I’ve been working all night so forgive my lack of specific details but I can think of 12 other fires in the city of Ypsilanti in the last few years:
    Two houses on the corner of RIver and MI ave, a large apt. building on the 300 block of River, a residential house further North on River, two residential houses on the first blocks E. of River, a residential house on Photo, a rental house across from the city parking lot behind the old DaLat, a residential house on MI Ave near Prospect next to Wireless toys, a residential house on Martin Dr., and most recently (1-2 weeks ago)a building on South Street (and I haven’t been keeping track…) If I bothered to do some serious research I’m sure there are many more.
    Does this seem like a suspiciously large number of fires to anyone else?
    Also, has anyone else noticed the number of city properties delinquent on their taxes?
    http://www.ugotpal.com/UserLogin.asp?unit=Ypsi

  13. Posted May 8, 2005 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    JO,
    i don’t mean to steal mark’s ‘fire’, but I’d appreciate it if you came over to my blog and repeated that.

    I don’t know about tax delinquency, but one thing that seems fairly accepted is that code violations aren’t being enforced properly, so that many properties are dangerous or unsightly, while others are basically fine but being heavily fined to the point the owners can’t do anything with the property. This is keeping people from setting up businesses locally, while also making other properties an actual safety hazard, and finally denying the city from collecting some much-needed revenue.

  14. Posted May 8, 2005 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Only 4000 EMU students live in the residence halls, so a number of them were counted by the census. To illustrate my point, Hamtramck and Ypsilanti are roughly the same size, but Hamtramck has no college. Check out these graphs:
    http://www.city-data.com/housing/houses-Ypsilanti-Michigan.html
    http://www.city-data.com/housing/houses-Hamtramck-Michigan.html

    As to the number of fires, some in town have said similar things to me in the past. I thought so too at the time, but living in Hamtramck now, it seems like there are even more fires.

    I can’t get to that tax delinquency site, JO. Do you mean this list?
    http://www.cityofypsilanti.com/bd_city-council/2004-05councilgoals.pdf
    Crown Paper – check!

  15. JO
    Posted May 8, 2005 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    It’s not really a tax delinquency site but a tax information site for all of the properties in the city of Ypsilanti, you can look up your favorite abandoned address (and many not abandoned) and see just how much the owners have in back taxes. It’s a little bit difficult to navigate at first but once yo choose “City of Ypsilanti” and log in you can search by address or recently sold properties by ft2 or owner’s name or property address. There is information on the properties, taxes paid or unpaid, photos…
    It’s also accessable thru. cityofypsilanti.com when you click on “Assessment Sketches/Tax Information. I’ve been looking at houses in the area and it’s amazing how often at least two years (it only goes back to 2003 but if you call the assessor’s office they will give you more info.) of back taxes are unpaid. I have an offer on a property with a boarded up building next door and will be calling the city in the morning to see just how long the taxes can go unpaid and how they go about collecting them. It should be interesting.

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