TAYLOR — Last week a major fire at the Park Place Apartment complex in the city of Taylor located on Eureka Rd. left a total of seven families displaced and homeless after the fire was put out several hours later. The incident is the latest in a string of controversies for the city, who earlier this month had already been under scrutiny when the city mayor declined a federal grant that would've re-instated 32 firefighters that had been laid off due to budget cuts.
|The fire at the Park Place apartment complex located off of Eureka Rd. that occured on August 17th saw seven families dismantled after one of the apartment buildings was completely destroyed in the process.|
In 2011, Taylor Mayor Jeffrey Lamarand received heavy criticism when he laid off 32 firefighters due to budget cuts. Earlier this summer the city had received an $8.1 million federal grant to re-hire the 32 firefighters that were laid off but Mayor Lamarand still declined the grant, even after the city had passed a resolution in June that directed him to accept it. The mayor's reasoning was that the city would still not be able to afford to cover any costs associated with the grant such as overtime pay, unemployment costs and workmen's compensation.
However, in August Wayne County Circuit Judge Kathleen MacDonald stepped in and ordered Mayor Lamarand to accept the grant or otherwise he would possibly be charged and face jail time. The city had only been operating with 28 firefighters after the layoffs, a drastically small number for a city the size of Taylor. Despite the order made by Wayne County earlier this month, the firefighters weren’t expected to be re-hired until September, leaving many speculating whether the city was short staffed during the fire emergency last week.
According to some of the families affected by the fire as well as witnesses who were on the scene, the city was allegedly so short staffed during the incident that they had to call firefighters from neighboring cities to come out to assist them when the fire couldn't be contained. Firefighters from the cities of Brownstown, Romulus and Southgate stepped in to assist Taylor, but those efforts were not good enough to stop one of the complex's buildings from completely being destroyed in the process.
But Mayor Lamarand dismisses any talks of being short staffed. During a brief phone interview on Wednesday, he stated that the fire department calling for assistance from other cities during last week's emergency doesn't indicate that they were short staffed on firefighters, but it was done because it's part of their normal procedures.
"We had the normal amount of personnel on the scene that you would expect from a fire like this. We always get assistance, and all responding communities were there within the proper time-span," Mayor Lamarand stated.
|Neighboring cities Brownstown, Southgate and Romulus came out to assist the city of Taylor, who last year laid off 32 firefighters last year after budget cuts.|
The fire allegedly started when an 8-year-old boy from one of the homes in the building had been playing with matches and left it unattended. The fire was able to spread for several minutes before anyone had taken notice. According to a few families who resided in the building, the fire continued to expand even after the city's firefighters allegedly arrived onto the scene.
Rashid Baydoun, Executive Director of the Arab Civil Rights League (ACRL), says both the city as well as the apartment complex owners should compensate for the families, citing negligence from all ends.
"There are federal guidelines that indicate that housing units are supposed to have fireproof walls. The way the fire spread should have never happened, it goes against all safety measures," stated Rashid Baydoun. "But what I find the most appalling is the issue with the mayor who refused to accept a federal grant to re-hire the firefighters. To me, I truly believe there is a coloration between not having an adequate staff of firefighters and the spreading of the fire. I believe the fire could've been contained and it's a direct result of the city being negligent."
Baydoun and the ACRL are currently drafting a letter to the mayor and are willing to conduct an independent investigation to see if the city and the apartment complex could be held liable.
The city offered all families who were affected by the fire a place to stay at one of Taylor's homeless shelters. Additionally, local organizations such as the Red Cross and the Democratic Club of Taylor have reached out to the families in need, by offering them aid such as money, clothing, furniture and supplies.
The owners of Park Place declined to comment on the story, but stated they were accepting donations from surrounding communities to help the families in need. Some families have complained that the apartment complex owners should be compensating for their loses by relocating them into other available homes in the complex. However the owners have been telling the families that the next available home won't be free for another month, despite signs in front of their offices that indicate both 2-bedroom homes and 3-bedroom homes are available for rent.
"They said the next closest availability wouldn't be for over a month and there is a wait-list on that one home. They should be more worried about providing shelter for the families that lost their homes than trying to make more money off of new residents. Where exactly are these families going to go in the meantime?" stated Baydoun.