Firefighter: City retaliated after complaint about new rig

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Ten brand new fire trucks have been a source of pride for the city of Detroit. But one firefighter pointed out an alarming imperfection in one of the new rigs and the administration didn't like it.

Firefighters simply call it retaliation after the city took it away.

Detroit firefighter Mike O'Lear was stunned by the reaction or retaliation as he calls it, following a letter he fired off to the city last week. In part, he expressed his concerns about the seatbelt alarms in the new rigs - he claims they were so loud and excessive that firefighters could miss vital information transmitted over the radio.

In it he wrote that as a "proud member of the Detroit Fire Department" his hope and resolve was to have the situation rectified because due to the department's workload, they "should be on the forefront of apparatus designs." O'Lear also added that he would inform various publications regarding the issue.

"It wasn't that I didn't want to wear a seatbelt or that no one wants to wear a seatbelt, it needs to be looked into that was it," he said.

Although O'Lear's superiors signed off, Fire Chief John King didn't like it one bit.

In an apparent act of retaliation, FOX 2 is told that King headed to the station and ordered the firefighters to line up for roll call. He told them not to move and when a firefighter moved to the side to let a sergeant into the line, he suspended him with no pay for six days.

Union President Jeff Pegg questions the motivation for the letter, but says it doesn't excuse the over-the-top reaction.

"I'm not sure about the intent of the letter," Pegg said. "But as far as how the chief went over and handed out the discipline, I don't see the reason for that."

Unhappy that someone was complaining about a new rig, the administration punished the Engine 52 firefighters by taking it away and transferring it to Engine 59.

"The way it was handled was wrong," Pegg said.

"The letter has divided the fire department, with some who feel O'Lear picked the wrong battle to fight.

But most do agree the city's reaction was uncalled for. With threats of transfers, even closing Engine 52, O'Lear fears there may be more retaliation to come.

"(You're) always afraid when you talk to the media," he said. "It's a matter of safety for citizens in the neighborhood and for firefighters. So you got to do what you got to do."

The city responded Tuesday night by calling the rig transfer an "administrative decision."

The city claims the old rig, now at Engine 52 is in good condition and will be inspected every day.

As for the complaint in the letter about the seatbelt alarm, Commissioner Edsel Jenkins said it is the city's goal to have a fleet with the highest safety standards. The seatbelt alarm is an industry standard in all of the 10 new engines.

The firefighter can challenge the discipline which FOX 2 is told he is doing, while the union is also fighting the suspension as well.