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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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