Tales of the 7th Battalion 13

Bridge Fires

The run came in at about 2 in the morning. The location was the I-75 interstate bridge that spans the Rouge River. This is a dangerous place for emergency operations because the road has a winding curve as the freeway approaches the start of the bridge. It creates a blind spot for motorists. Speeding traffic is a danger to emergency personnel involved in any type of incident. I was in charge of Ladder 13 that night. I told my Firefighters to keep their eyes on traffic when we went to work at the scene. Central office told us we had a car fire at the northbound exit to Dearborn Avenue. This location is a trouble spot on the expressway. Earlier in the year we had a man killed when he crashed through the guard rail with his semi-tractor trailer. Witnesses said he swerved to avoid a young lady in a Volkswagen who was talking on a cell phone. She never even looked back and was unaware her careless driving cost a man his life. The Truck plunged 60 feet to the concrete below. In the previous year we had an auto accident at this same site. There were two fire rigs and two police cars surrounding the wrecked cars. Men were working to free the trapped victims. Every flasher and light was screaming a warning to approaching traffic to slow down. We there only a few minutes, when a car sped through our work site going at least 70 miles per hour. It was a scary deal. I always hated working on the I-75 Bridge.

We were on the scene in minutes. We entered from Dearborn Avenue and proceeded up the off ramp. We could see the outline of two cars burning furiously at the point where cars came off the freeway and started their decent into the slum area called Delray. We stopped our apparatus about twenty yards short of the burning cars. Blocking our path was a brand new Cadillac that looked like it skidded before smashing into the retaining wall of the Dearborn Street exit. The passenger door was open. No one was in the car. We stretched hose lines from Ladder 13 and Engine 33 to extinguish the fires raging in the two burning automobiles. There were two cops jumping up and down and waving for us to hurry. It always amazed me how totally involved a car can get in fire. Both of the burning vehicles were police cruisers. We quickly put out the fire. Both police cars were completely totaled by the crash and subsequent fire.

We got the story when we took our report. One of the bums from Delray had stolen the Cadillac in River Rouge. The police in that small town were quick to spot the stolen vehicle and a chase ensued. The distraught police officer said he was only a few yards behind the fleeing felon when the bad guy took a hard turn at the exit. The bum made it but skidded into the retaining wall. The lead police car crashed into the safety barrels protecting the wall of the expressway at that point. The second police car had been too close to his partner and plowed into his rear end. There was a fire ball as the gas tank exploded and luckily both policemen were able to get out of the crashed vehicles. They ran toward the demolished Cadillac. The felon had fled. They could see him sprinting across the park at the foot of the exit ramp. He was gone in seconds. One of the cops was bitching about losing the new shot guns stored in the trunk of his cruiser. The other cop was moaning about the reports he would have to make. As we were picking up line one of my guys told the cops they shouldn’t have been tail gating. It was a poor choice of words. When we left the scene the cops were still mumbling and cussing. I chuckled to myself how the crime scoreboard had chalked up one for the bum from Delray and a devastating shutout for the cops from River Rouge.

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"Fire Horses" book authored by firefighter R.J. Haig.


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