The Milk Wagon
As a preface to this story I will say that Tom Kniaz was one of the best people we had working at the shop to keep Detroit Firefighters and their equipment in top shape. Tom eventually became a chief. His assistance to Local 344 during contract act 312 hearings was instrumental in getting Detroit Firefighters equipped with modern up to date turn out gear. Here is the story Tom sent me about his experiences during the 1967 riot.
The Detroit riots started on Sunday July 23, 1967. Soon thereafter, by executive order, three fire department command posts were set up in the city. The locations were at East Warren and Manistique (E-52 & L-31), F.D. Training Academy (E-12 & L-9), and West Chicago and Livernois (E-42 & L-21).
Tuesday afternoon, Asst Chief of Apparatus Andy Magro gave me directions to the command posts and told me to take the department fuel supply truck, radio code # 507, and to fuel up the apparatus at the command posts including the rigs from other cities. He told me to stay off the expressways.
The majority of apparatus in 1967 were gasoline powered. The fuel supply tanker at that time was department code #874, a 1954 Ford F-600 that carried 500 gallons of leaded gasoline, as well as motor oil and automatic transmission fluid but no diesel fuel. The tanker was equipped with cowl and roof mounted lights and a siren.
I was 25 years old at the time and had been a member of the Apparatus Division for 14 months. I thought it was a great job and did what I was told.
My first stop was the command post at E-42's quarters. On the way there I could hear all the dispatches from Central Office and could see the smoke in the sky in various parts of the city. I thought to myself, "This is exciting."
I finished fueling the trucks at E-42's quarters and 2 hours later I was on my way to stop number two at the Department Training Academy. Driving south on Grand River I felt the first stone hit my tanker and a couple of others came close but missed the target.
I fueled up everyone at the training academy and headed for E-52's quarters on the far east side via Forest Avenue. Traffic was light because of the curfew so I began using the flashing lights and sirens at major intersections rather than stopping completely and taking forever to get the tanker rolling again. I got pelted with more rocks and bottles as I crossed Gratiot Avenue, and again at Forest and Cadillac Blvd. This was going from EXCITING to downright SCARY.
When I arrived at E-52 I discovered the 24 hour Apparatus Emergency Repairman had a National Guard escort. After talking to him I called the shop and asked Chief Magro if he could arrange an escort for me. He replied he would try. An hour went by and I called again. The chief said he was working on getting the escort and that he would call me back. A half hour later he called to say my escort would be a Michigan State Trooper who would follow me in his marked car. Later that night he was called away and I was on my own again. I heard a fire captain say, “Hey kid, take that truck back to the shop, take off the lights and flashers, and paint it white. Make it a milk wagon.
I eventually returned to the shop unhurt and found out Chief Magro had earlier asked two more senior employees to do the refueling. They refused and politely suggested he give the job to the low seniority guy.....ME!
I subsequently did wind up working on a white truck the next day. I replaced the clutch in a Lansing Fire Department white Seagrave pumper. It was from one of the many departments who sent men and apparatus to Detroit during the riot.
Bob, that's my white milk wagon story. Like you, I have many recollections of my 30 years on the Detroit Fire Department.
I thank Tom for this interesting tale. It seems like the low man on the seniority list gets all the tough jobs. Tom did a great job during the riot as did all the support personnel. I cannot imagine the difficult job that Central Office had at that time. It was dangerous trying time for everyone on the Fire Department. It seemed like it happened just yesterday. Where the hell did the time go to?
Stay safe my brothers and sisters.
"Fire Talk" Archives
- Benny the Hook
- Got To Love Texas
- The Fog of Retirement
- Two Tough Kids
- On Leaving the Department
- Cop Talk 3, Ceremony
- Putting it on the Line
- A Bond of Love
- God Will Protect Us
- Stealing Fires
- Poo Poo Pants
- Decoy Carver
- Firefighter's Road Trip
- Day Twenty-seven. Road Trip
- Down Mexico Way
- Zoo in the 7th
- A Gentle Landing
- Always a Firefighter
- Christmas at the Firehouse
- Harem Sacrum
- The Crow Who Spoke Polish
- Once a Firefighter always a Firefighter
- A Brotherhood
- Retiring a Hall of Fame Firefighter
- Anatomy of Forcible Entry
- Old Horses
- The Milk Wagon
- The Howling
- Tales of the Seventh Battalion 26, Destructo
- Memories of the 7th Battalion
- Running Mates
- Engine 32
- Last Alarm
- Tiger Stadium Fire
- To Moosenee and Back
- Memorial Day 2009
- Anatomy of a Fire at a Dangerous Building
- Tales of the Seventh Battalion 25, A Typical 7th Battalion Fire
- Boris the Talking Dog
- Wear and Tear
- Tales of the Seventh Battalion 24, Legends
- Tales of the 7th Battalion 23, Ankie
- Anatomy of a Dwelling Fire
- A Firefighter's Spring
- My Running Mate
- The Singing Fireman
- The Right Stuff
- Tales of the 7th Battalion 22, A Desperate Rescue
- 300 Spartans
- Tales of the 7th Battalion 21, Men Who Fight Bears
- At the End of His Rope
- Tales of the 7th Battalion 20, Wolf Warriors
- Tales of the 7th Battalion 19, Motorcycle Maniac
- Career Ending Injuries
- Detroit Loses One of Its Finest
- On Duty Injuries
- Unpractical Jokes
- Dedication in the Fire Service
- Tales of the 7th Battalion 18, Spare Parts
- Tales of the 7th Battalion 17, Passage to Hell
- Tales of the 7th Battalion 16, Gallant Warrior
- Tales of the 7th Battalion 15, Big Ones
- Tales of the 7th Battalion 14, Chicago Lil
- Tales of the 7th Battalion 13, Bridge Fires
- Tales of the 7th Battalion 12, Hot Stuff
- Tales of the 7th Battalion 11, Taco Wars
- Tales of the 7th Battalion 10, Day in Hell
- Tales of the 7th Battalion 9, Engine House Cat
- Tales of the 7th Battalion 8, Finding a Pen
- The Polish Squad
- Tales of the 7th Battalion 7, Wayne Soap
- Tales of the 7th Battalion 6, Junk Yard Goat
- The 1967 Riot in Detroit 3
- Department Legends
- Tales of the 7th Battalion 5, The Fonz
- The 1967 Riot (an entry from Tom Hart)
- The 1967 Detroit Riot
- Tales of the 7th Battalion 4, Howard
- The Buhl Building Fire
- Tales of the 7th Battalion 3, Engine 27
- Tales of the 7th Battalion 2, Roof Rescue
- Tales of the 7th Battalion 1, Explosion
- The worst 7th Battalion Fire
- Fire Incidents
- Beeler's Fog Monster
- Thoughts of a Retired Firefighter
- Dogs of the Realm
- Going to the Dogs
- Firefighter/Lawyer ?
- Moe Tales
- The Legend of Moe
- A POEM: When Brave Men Cry