DETROIT (WJBK) - They put their lives at risk to keep us safe, but do Detroit firefighters have the proper equipment to do so? Turns out, more than half of the breathing tanks at the Detroit Fire Department haven't been tested since 2008, posing a serious safety risk. Several years ago, a Detroit fire air tank did explode and caused serious damage.
“We put on these air tanks and we rush into burning buildings, these bottles are all we have between our own life and death,” says Sgt. Bill Harp. He filed a complaint with MIOSHA after firefighters at one battalion discovered more than half of their breathing apparatuses were non-compliant.
Federal law requires the tanks to be hydrostatically tested every five years to reveal any flaws in the casings because the compressed gas can cause the tanks to explode.
“That one has never been tested,” Harp says, pointing out a particular tank to Taryn. "You are standing next to a bomb.”
Filling and transporting an air tank that's non-compliant is a violation of federal law. Yet, we discovered Detroit’s fire administration chose to save money and forgo testing the air cylinders over the last year or so because they planned to buy new ones.
In response, Executive Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins issued this statement, saying:
"Making sure firefighters have a sufficient air supply in the event that they are ever trapped in a fire is one of our highest priorities. That’s why the department is in process of replacing all 420 of its 30-minute air bottles with 800 new 45-minute ones.
"The first 120 delivered and put into service at the end of the month and the rest by the end of the year."
FOX 2 has learned that Detroit Fire began ordering the testing of the air bottles only after a complaint was filed with the state. The city, which issued a frantic count of the breathing tanks Tuesday afternoon, claims only 179 out of 420 are not certified, but firefighters say the city's numbers don't add up. They claim more than half of the department’s air cylinders are bad.
“These guys count on the city to take care of us as we take care of the citizens,” says Harp. It's really disappointing the city knowingly wanted to save money, whatever the internal reasons and put our safety at risk."
Jenkins says the first 27 bottles are being tested and the ones that are compliant will go back into service tomorrow. However, firefighters say this is not true.
FOX 2 has learned an emergency meeting was held at fire headquarters Tuesday night.