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Detroit FFs scrutinized over rescue, leaving scene, at apartment fire

Highland Park Fire Chief Erik Hollowell said Detroit firefighters leaving the scene is “negligent to the highest power”

By Bill Carey

DETROIT — The Detroit Fire Department is facing scrutiny after the chief from a neighboring department said Detroit firefighters left the scene of an apartment fire mid-operation, leaving remaining fire crews in danger and allowing the fire to spread.

There is also conflicting information from department officials and apartment residents about the nature of rescue operations at the incident.

On Jan. 1, Detroit firefighters responded just outside city limits to an apartment fire in Highland Park, WDIV reported. Firefighters from Highland Park and Hamtramck also responded.

The Detroit firefighters were reportedly ordered by Detroit Battalion Chief 5 to withdraw from the building and leave the scene, a move that the Highland Park Fire Chief Erik Hollowell said endangered his firefighters because, as he told WDIC, “there’s no water going on that fire” when Detroit crews exited the building. Hollowell added, “It absolutely is not OK” to take water off a fire and walk away. “That is negligent to the highest power.”

The Detroit Fire Department and the firefighters’ union stated its firefighters were first to arrive and quickly evacuated the occupants from the building.

“Our firefighters responded quickly faster than the other two agencies responded and got in with charged line and got individuals out, saved a woman and a child that were inside a burning building,” said Detroit Fire Department Chief of Staff David Levalley.

WDIV spoke with occupants whom Levalley said were rescued, but they indicated that they had to jump from a window to escape the fire.

Sharon Mayhawk said that she dropped her three children from a second-floor window to her husband below before going out the window herself.

Detroit Fire Commissioner Chuck Simms responded to the conflicting rescue story and the firefighters leaving the scene.

“Even if they saw them at the door and helped them out, they still assisted in getting them to safety,” Simms told WDIV.

Simms also supported the battalion chief who ordered firefighters to leave the scene. Uncertainty still remains among all three fire departments as to whether water was on the fire when Detroit firefighters were leaving the scene.