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Surrounded by Detroit gunfire: The night our ambulance broke down

This video being put on the news wasn't the first story about our failed system and it wasn't the only one to go viral

Editor's note: As part of our year-end coverage, we look back at some of 2012's biggest news stories and reconnect with some of those involved in the incidents. In this exclusive article, Wisam R Zeineh recalls the moment he and his partner were trapped in a broken-down ambulance as almost constant gunfire rang out around them in Detroit on New Year's Eve. He caught the incident on his iPhone, with the video quickly going viral and highlighting the troubled state of the Detroit EMS system. 

By Wisam R Zeineh, EMT-P

Throughout my career, New Year's Eve in Detroit has always been one of the worst nights to work. This past New Years was no different. The ambulance we were working on was no different than the rest of the dilapidated fleet.

Frequent breakdowns, no supplies and sporadic police back-up made for some bad nights at work. More demoralizing was the fact that police and fire responses to calls were limited during that transition hour, yet EMS still had to respond.

Our night was one that was like the others. Our plan, like most, was to hope for a call during the first part of the 11 o'clock hour, which would put us at the hospital around midnight. The hospital was our safe haven on New Year's Eve.

As we cleared a run, we headed back to quarters with our fingers crossed hoping for another call. Unfortunately, our hopes turned to anger as the vehicle shut down as we were traveling down the road.

I turned the steering wheel into a gas station and the vehicle rolled into a sweet spot that lined the vehicle parallel with a concrete wall. We kept our backs to the wall and had a complete view of everything in front of us and two exit points if we had to run.

As the gunshots began to blare, I hoped that my iPhone was picking up every crack of gunfire, which was literally all around us in the blackness of the night. I sat thinking that this video had to go public. It was a statement. Not a statement of a failing EMS System, but a statement of the social decline and lack of regard for humanity.

This video being put on the news wasn't the first story about our failed system and it wasn't the only one to go viral. I remember thinking, "Well maybe if they see and hear this it will make a difference"? This experience made me realize that this job in this city with its failed leadership wasn't ever going to get any better.

For five years, a dedicated few fought tirelessly to expose a system of failure, corruption, and fraud, violation after violation of numerous laws, rules, and just plain decency.

Being surrounded by gunshots in Detroit is nothing new. You become numb to it after a while, yet always attentive to your surroundings. The guns aren't killing us as paramedics here; it's the methods in the department.

EMS has transitioned to a glorified taxi service, no performance standards, no safety standards, and no quality standards. Our EMS division, whose leaders lack basic college degrees yet have been deemed qualified to run a major urban EMS operation.

Detroit EMS providers are the top injured public safety worker in the city, above police and above fire. It has the highest number of vehicle accidents behind our buses. As a father, this run on New Year's Eve made me realize that the only person I could count on to not be hurt or killed at work was my partner.

I also realized that my life would never again be in the hands of another man to control. It was more than obvious that the management of this fire department and division have no regard for not only the citizens we are paid to protect, but the dedicated men and women who put their lives on the line every day in a city everyone seems to have given up on.

In October of this year I resigned from my position with the Detroit Fire Department. As I have left a job I hold dear to my heart, I have chosen to remain in Detroit and continue to work on repairing a failing system that has continued to be ignored by those in official positions.

Although saddened by the blindness of so many, I have dedicated myself to see this through. In the meantime, the guns are blazing, the city is burning, and nobody cares…

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Eric Doc Liddy Sr. Eric Doc Liddy Sr. Sunday, December 30, 2012 3:23:51 PM I resigned from Detroit EMS in June of this year, for many of the same reasons. An administration that makes all aspects of the job, punitive. Such as, for an example, a time my partner and I were threatened with departmental charges for aiding in the rescue of a blind, elderly woman from a burning building. Instead of a simple, "attaboys" or citation, we were threatened with our jobs. The rigs are in terrible shape, and in some instances, truly are held together by duct tape and chewing gum, so to speak. Maintenance of the Ambulances is nearly non-existent, stations have issues like sewage back ups, leaky roofs, rat and roach infestations, and even lack of basic station supplies like toilet paper and even medical supplies. Administration encourages thug like activity of its street supervisors. It is pushed by EMS administrators to harass, threaten and intimidate members of Detroit EMS to do their bidding. If you don't comply with even the most insane of requests, like entering a Haz-Mat scene without proper safety equipment, or entering hostile, violent scenes without police presence, you face disciplinary actions or even termination. After suffering a heart attack on the job on November 24th, 2011, I lingered on the job for several more months until I could no longer endure the stress and left the job on June 8th, 2012...with a very sour taste in my mouth. In 24 years of Fire Service and EMS, my 12+ years with Detroit EMS broke me. Wisam, I wish you and the other in the union all of the luck in the world, but until someone is either killed in the line of duty, or one of the members of EMS administration is sacked and replaced by people with competence, I can't see all that much ever changing.
Fred Leopold Fred Leopold Sunday, December 30, 2012 3:43:54 PM Cut to flashback: NYE 78>79, 12:10am My partner and I were dispatched to the alley behind Brody-Bilt Construction, 7 and Livernois, for "Man Down." It was eerily quiet nearby, juxtaposed with the gunshots echoing around the city. As we were out of the vehicle, searching for our patient with flashlights, there was a BOOM behind us. Nobody hit, we leaped for our rig. We sought cover in the angle of the L-Shaped Brody-Bilt structure and called for police backup. On the way, said our dispatcher. None came. When the yellow plastic shards of the lighted business sign overhead cascaded down on our vehicle, we fled, all lights off the the police precinct nearby. We entered to find a dozen or so uniformed officers swilling champagne from the bottle, evidently ignoring our pleas for safety...Upon return to our quarters, we discovered two large caliber divots over the driver's side head of our vehicle. It is my understanding that the same safety, equipment, and personnel issues exist today as were evident 35 years ago. This needs to become a campaign issue as these brave and persistent Paramedics continue to protect Detroit's most vulnerable.
Fred Leopold Fred Leopold Sunday, December 30, 2012 3:50:52 PM Kudos to Mr Zeineh and the reporter for a hard hit. I agree with Mr Gerald V. Dajnowicz, a retired colleague from the DFDEMS of the 70s: This needs to be a CAMPAIGN ISSUE. I have added my post to the media story, if only for historical perspective.
Eric Doc Liddy Sr. Eric Doc Liddy Sr. Sunday, December 30, 2012 4:15:31 PM I couldn't read the rest of what you said Fred. It wouldn't let me link in to the rest of your post.
Gerald V. Dajnowicz Gerald V. Dajnowicz Sunday, December 30, 2012 4:47:53 PM times haven't changed much, we have literally dodged a lot of bullets since '72, my fear is that 40 years is a long time to defy odds...hopefully, this will be raised as a campaign issue next year..but I fear that an emergency manager is in our future and he has much larger fish to fry than a tech...
Fred Leopold Fred Leopold Sunday, December 30, 2012 4:54:00 PM Sorry, Dude..I can see it..Dono how to fix..
Becky Shantry Becky Shantry Sunday, December 30, 2012 4:55:40 PM Hopefully, he, at least will see what needs to be done. I do know that Kwame almost buried Detroit permanently; and I do know that Detroit has people who still care about her, and citizens who just want to have their city back. If Kwame and the rest of the rapists do not reap what they have sown, then the world will not ever get better.
Ron Stavale Ron Stavale Sunday, December 30, 2012 5:17:10 PM There are basic medical standards of care for response times in this country for EMS Paramedics.....compared to standards, Detroit is a 3rd world country and city leaders have known and tolerated it for 40 yrs.
Suzanne C Walcheck Suzanne C Walcheck Sunday, December 30, 2012 9:45:33 PM Sounds like EMS and I was there in the 80's.

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