Checking fire extinguishers and sprinklers, a handful of workers are last vestiges of fire department at Flint's old Buick City complex
FLINT, Michigan -- The fire hall was boarded up years ago.
The ambulance is in a museum.
The lone fire truck has outlasted the company that built it.
Piece by piece, the Buick Fire Department is fading away.
For more than 60 years, Flint's "other" fire department has kept vigil at the former Buick City complex.
But as the workforce at the remaining plants dwindles away, the department's four remaining firefighters wonder what the future holds.
"It's a sad situation," said Buick firefighter Edward Ferguson, who has spent 24 years with the department.
In its heyday, Buick boasted more than 28 firefighters to safeguard the sprawling grounds.
Today, it's an afterthought.
While UAW Local 599 has successfully protected the firefighters from cuts, the department isn't feeling much love from GM.
Security guards now answer the phone for fire calls, and the bigger Flint Fire Department gets called to handle anything major.
When the Buick fire chief left six months ago, GM didn't bother to replace him and now has the firefighters work with a liaison in the security office.
Buick firefighters can no longer print out duty logs from its antiquated computer because the computer is so old GM never replaced the printer when it broke.
A GM spokesman said the automaker only has a handful of fire companies left at its plants around the country.
Newer plants rely on local fire departments to douse fires and use on-site security services to check on items like extinguishers.
"(GM-run fire departments like Buick) were put in place back when the plants were like our cities," said GM spokesman Jeff Ward.
Yet, Buick firefighters say they still play an important role.
When 500 gallons of toxic methanol spilled at Factory 5 three years ago, Buick firefighters said they were on the scene before the first city fire truck rolled in.
But such emergencies are rare.
With the former Buick City populated by about 1,050 workers today -- down from 28,000 -- the firefighters focus on preventing fires in what's left of the complex.
It's a point of pride for the department.
"If we do our job right, we won't have any fires," said Joe Huber, who has been a Buick firefighter for 17 years.
That might not be an issue much longer.
A large map on the wall of the fire department details the slow death of Buick with "gone" scrawled in black marker across buildings that have either met the wrecking ball or now stand empty.
With just three factories still in use, the four firefighters still on the job left spend their shifts checking fire extinguishers, maintaining the sprinkler systems and putting out the odd trash can fire caused by a careless smoker.
As with any other full-time fire department, at least one firefighter is always on duty at any time of night or 24 hours a day.
Once a week, firefighters take the No. 73 1984 GMC 500-gallon (checking on what it is) out for a spin to make sure it still runs.
On a typical day, firefighters may ferry empty extinguishers back for service or write special burn permits for welders.
Huber said work at the complex is set to continue until 2010 and what happens after that is anybody's guess.
After Huber retires next month, he wonders if he will even be replaced."It's just gotten smaller and smaller," he said.
|This photo from the east showing the sand shed is from December 11, 1923 and is from Don's book.|
|This shows the inside of the sand shed. This is also from Don Bent's book.|
|This 1920 south-east view is showing the location of #21 before any expansion. |
|This is 1920 facing north across Leith Street. Foundry #20 built in 1916 is on the left with the pattern and die shop #15 on the right. That is the sand shed (red arrow) for the foundry built in 1917. It was for keeping the sand used in the molds from freezing during the Michigan winters. LINK: |
|This post World War II photo of Buick (facing north) shows the sand shed location (red arrow) and the fire hall (yellow arrow).|
|This post war map shows the location of the sand shed and fire hall relative to the other factories.|
|This snip from Leonard Thygesen's demolition documentary shows the site in 2002. Building #21 (red) and hall #97 (yellow). This is facing east.|
|This snip from Leonard Thygesen's demolition documentary shows the site in 2003. Building #21 (red) and hall # 97 (yellow). Facing south-west.|
|This snip from Leonard Thygesen's demolition documentary shows the site in 2002. Building #21 (red) and hall # 97 (yellow). Facing north. LINK: |