Detroit Fire Department History – July 23rd-28th – 1967 Riots

Today in DFD history – July 23rd – 28th, 1967

During Detroit’s worst civil disturbance the Detroit Fire Department was taxed beyond its limits.

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The department fought 1,682 fires.  Including 276 runs responded to by mutual aid companies from 45 fire companies from surrounding communities and across the river (Windsor). 

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More than 5,000 citizens’ homes were burned.  Total fire loss was estimated at over $12.7 million.

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Detroit Firefighters Carl Smith and John Ashby died as a result of the rioting.

Questions: 
Were you, your husband, or father a firefighter on the department during the ’67 Riots?  Please share your memories.

 

 

Visit our RESOURCES PAGE for answers to the 
most common questions we get.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Earl Johnson

    Earl Johnson

    My Father is a retired Detroit Firefighter.He was on duty during the
    Detroit riot, July 1967.He was also the Vice President of the Detroit
    Firemen’s Fund during that time. He was stationed at Engine 44 at 7 Mile
    and John R. I asked him if he had been to any of the “big” fires during
    the riot and he said that “all of the fires were big that week” When
    they would arrive at a fire it was usually a building that was
    surrounded by many other buildings that were also on fire.He could hear
    gunfire most of the time and experienced personal injury when he and
    some fellow Firefighters were injured by rioters when their truck was
    overrun during one of the calls.

    I didn’t see my Father for over the first three days of the riot. He came home about three days after the riot began to change into civilian clothes and went out the front
    door and sat in one of the three Army jeeps that had been sent as an
    escort. The jeeps had a mounted machine gun in the rear with a soldier
    manning each gun. I also remember a helicopter hovering directly over
    the house. He was needed downtown at the main Fund office. My Father was
    also on the Firemen’s Fund committee for Widows and Orphans. His
    committee was already needed. The Detroit Fire Department lost Carl
    Smith and later, John Ashby. My Father knew Carl and had served with
    John and I will always remember the look of sadness on my Fathers face
    as we were marching in the funeral processions. Men were playing
    Bagpipes and there were many, many rows of uniformed Firefighters from
    many areas marching behind the hearse. My Father took John Ashby’s death
    especially hard. He penned the following for the Detroit newspapers:
    A Personal Note on John C. Ashby by A fellow Fireman
    Earl Johnson
    John was a firefighter and citizen of the highest caliber. His tragic death
    is a loss to the community of one of the most dedicated, capable young
    men, that has been my pleasure to know in 15 years as a fireman. He had
    the remarkable ability to make everyone he came into contact with, to
    believe that to him your friendship was the most important thing in his
    life. Many firemen will tell you in all honesty ” I Was John’s Best
    Friend”. John projected a love for people and life that was
    contagious.You automatically responded to this facet of the personality,
    of a remarkable young man, so refreshing, because it was natural and
    unassuming. Never has such a young man, in so short a time, made such a
    profound impact on a group of men. All the descriptive adjectives and
    phrases apply to John, honest, articulate, dedicated, with a refreshing
    eagerness reflected in everything he did. He applied himself, whatever
    the task, harder than anyone else, and yet never made you feel guilty
    that he carried more than his load.

    John loved and lived the Fire Department, and in turn, was loved and respected by his fellow workers.
    It became my sad duty to notify many of his co-workers of his death, and
    almost without fail, those big tough firemen, broke down with sobs and
    tears. I understood, because I too had been “Johns best friend”.

  • Earl Johnson

    My Father is a retired Detroit Firefighter.He was on duty during the Detroit riot, July 1967.He was also the Vice President of the Detroit Firemen’s Fund during that time. He was stationed at Engine 44 at 7 Mile and John R. I asked him if he had been to any of the “big” fires during the riot and he said that “all of the fires were big that week” When they would arrive at a fire it was usually a building that was surrounded by many other buildings that were also on fire.He could hear gunfire most of the time and experienced personal injury when he and some fellow Firefighters were injured by rioters when their truck was overrun during one of the calls.

    I didn’t see my Father for over the first three days of the riot. He came home about three days after the riot began to change into civilian clothes and went out the front door and sat in one of the three Army jeeps that had been sent as an escort. The jeeps had a mounted machine gun in the rear with a soldier manning each gun. I also remember a helicopter hovering directly over the house. He was needed downtown at the main Fund office. My Father was also on the Firemen’s Fund committee for Widows and Orphans. His committee was already needed. The Detroit Fire Department lost Carl Smith and later, John Ashby. My Father knew Carl and had served with John and I will always remember the look of sadness on my Fathers face as we were marching in the funeral processions. Men were playing Bagpipes and there were many, many rows of uniformed Firefighters from many areas marching behind the hearse. My Father took John Ashby’s death especially hard. He penned the following for the Detroit newspapers:
    A Personal Note on John C. Ashby by A fellow Fireman
    Earl Johnson
    John was a firefighter and citizen of the highest caliber. His tragic death is a loss to the community of one of the most dedicated, capable young men, that has been my pleasure to know in 15 years as a fireman. He had the remarkable ability to make everyone he came into contact with, to believe that to him your friendship was the most important thing in his life. Many firemen will tell you in all honesty ” I Was John’s Best Friend”. John projected a love for people and life that was contagious.You automatically responded to this facet of the personality, of a remarkable young man, so refreshing, because it was natural and unassumed. Never has such a young man, in so short a time, made such a profound impact on a group of men. All the descriptive adjectives and phrases apply to John, honest, articulate, dedicated, with a refreshing eagerness reflected in everything he did. He applied himself, whatever the task, harder than anyone else, and yet never made you feel guilty that he carried more than his load.

    John loved and lived the Fire Department, and in turn, was loved and respected by his fellow workers. It became my sad duty to notify many of his co-workers of his death, and almost without fail, those big tough firemen, broke down with sobs and tears. I understood, because I too had been “Johns best friend”.

  • Douglas Smith

    I was on my way to Engine 33, Ladder 13 that Sunday morning when I stopped to assist at an automobile accident at Lawndale and Vernor. We called for a rescue squad and none arrived, finally a police station wagon was able to take the individual in. When I Asked about the delay, I was informed of the riot and relayed the information when I reached the Engine House. Spent the first night near 12th and Grand River with one line on Ivory Brothers storage until the walls caved in.
    First command post was at Engine 12 , I was driving Ladder 13 that night and ended up putting up a hose tower pumped into by a rig from Dearborn, driven by a close friend. Later the command post was moved to Engine 42 where I met up with my brother Bob, Captain of Squad 7 and brother Gordon who was running out of Engine 42. Relief crews were back at the Engine house getting some rest. At Engine 33, we put line on the back of some pick ups so we could respond to any local fires using hydrant pressure. We did make a few stops . The local neighbor people were fantastic, even cheered us when we came back to the Engine House to change crews and brought food to the quarters. I had some flash-backs of that experience when I saw the attack on Police in Dallas. Sad and bewildering that Police and Fire have become the “ENEMY.” Detroit has never recovered. After three break-ins and a home invasion along with my car stolen from in front of the house, as well as needing an adult to escort my daughter to school, each morning. I resigned from the department and left the city.

  • SueAnne Hammond McCreery

    My dad, Elmer (Al) Hammond, was on his boat out in the middle of Lake St. Clair when the riots broke out. The Coast Guard had to track him down to notify him to report to duty. I was 9 at the time and remember playing with other firefighters’ kids when we went to visit him during a short break somewhere out of harm’s way. I sensed the fear but really didn’t understand how dangerous it was at the time. My dad retired in 1982 as a battalion chief and passed away in 2002. I miss him so much.

  • Maureen Meehan-Polash

    My dad, Lt. Francis Meehan, was there also. My husband, who was with the Army 101st, was also there. Scary time for all!

    • sheryljayson

      Approved

  • Natalie McGraw-Papoulias

    Dad retired as a Captain in 1993…..

  • Natalie McGraw-Papoulias

    My dad was there…..John P McGraw. My mom was pregnant with me. She went and stayed with my grandma is Westland to get out of Detroit. Dad was gone for a week fighting fires. He has a few cool pictures he took while on duty that week……lots of stuff with the National Guard.

    • Natalie,
      Thanks for your post. We would be happy to include your Dad’s pictures with this post if you would like to share them. You can contact me via email at sheryljayson@dfdlegacy.com.

  • On March 28th 2014 we changed the comment system we were using. Unfortunately it did not import
    existing comments. The following are comments posted prior to the change:

    Wayne P. Isken on September 1, 2013 at 8:01 AM said: Edit

    On some pictures of the 67 riot you will see Firefighters in OCD (Office of Civil Defense) fire gear rather than their regular Detroit issued fire gear. It is assumed that these were Fire auxiliaries, not so, most were us regular Firefighters.

    Here’s what happened. We were called back from home, or just seeing a notification on TV, and told to respond to certain command locations rather than to our regular firehouse. I ran at Engine 31,….. Engine 42 was our command post.

    Every engine house had OCD fire gear (coats, helmets & boots) in their basement .Since we didn’t have our stuff we grabbed those to wear. Then we waited till an X-rig ( Old extra apparatus ) pulled up and jumped aboard.

    As there was more men then rigs we piled as many men on a rig as possible. When we left Engine 42 our X-rig (held 37 men). We were jammed in the back, in the cab and the outside holding on to anything and everything. We counted as we wanted to remember the number) This was the number of men on the rig I was on. Every X-rig was jammed with men. If some men ran across their own company during that day they left us & went with them. The ones that didn’t were dropped off at their regular company Monday morning.

  • Dan Bojalad on August 8, 2013 at 12:28 PM said:

    I was 22 years of age with almost 2 years on the job. I was on duty at Engine Co. No 6 on the morning of July 23, 1967. Engine 6 was housed with Ladder 5, located at Russell & Wilkins in the Eastern Market.
    We were told, face to face, by the Battlion Chief 4 that there was trouble on 12 th. street.
    We were soon dispatched to a fire on Grand River and 12th. We pulled up on the scene and were surprised at the amount of buildings that were ablaze. We stretched our fire lines and began a 99 hour tour of duty. Remember waking up in the middle of 12th street laying on a 2 1/2 inch fire hose. We took turns manning the pipe (nozzle). Began hearing about guys getting shot at and pelted with rocks. Many of the residents I saw were very scared. I’ll always remember a young mother huddling with her 2 children in a doorway. She was terrified and said she had no where to go. Her house was torched and completely destroyed. Many of the home and buildings were beautiful well kept structures. A group of young men came up to our Engine Company and said you better get back on that truck and leave. We stayed and fought the fire. As I recall, we were the only company fighting this one building fire (Kentucky Fried Chicken?). This fire would normally call for at least 3 Alarms (about 5 Engines, 2 Ladder rigs, Rescue Squad – for a total of 40 men. We were doing it with 1 Engine and 5 men. There were plenty of fire crews working the area but they had there own building fires to contend with. Exhausting. My brother Norm was in the National Guard and was assigned to street duty. We never hooked up. Airborne troops arrived and things started to settle down. 2 fireman killed, 1 policeman. Over 40 civilians killed. Many injuries, some never reported. A bad day for our hometown.

  • Eleanor (English) Johnson on July 25, 2013 at 11:43 AM said:

    My Dad, Bill English was a firefighter during the 67 riots. He was stationed at the quarters of Engine 42/Ladder 21 at the time. He is pictured in the photo you have posted with the tank! It was an absolutely awful time and I will never forget how frightened we all were when everyone was called back to duty!!! I will also never forget listening to the gun fire while on the phone with him one night with my mom!!! Dad’s quarters were a staging area and when they had some “down” time, he did manage to get some gritty home movies. Our family was staying with relatives down river during all of this unrest and we did come back for a brief visit with Dad, because he had been injured. He was able to come home for about a half hour after he was released from the hospital and then he was right back in the thick of it!

  • JimPorter on July 25, 2013 at 10:42 AM said:

    As a TFF during that period, I wondered if I had chosen the right Career. My Wife and I got married the day the riots ended and if wasn’t for Captain Hank Meyers, I wouldn’t have made it to the church on time.

  • Laurie d’Ault on July 25, 2013 at 8:58 AM said:

    Not husband or father, but my uncle Alex Novikoff. He was my earliest hero. He went on to become a battalion chief before he died in 1974. I miss him so much. He loved the department.

  • Wayne P. Isken on July 25, 2013 at 8:23 AM said:
    “FIRE FAMILY”

    THAT HELPED US AT THE BELOW BOX, AND THE MANY OTHER LOCATIONS THROUGHOUT THAT WEEK.

    BOX 526
    12 TH. & TAYLOR
    8:24 AM
    SUNDAY
    JULY 23
    1967

    CITIES RESPONDING

    BIRMINGHAM CLINTON
    COMMERCE TWP. DEARBORN HEIGHTS
    DEARBORN TWP. DETROIT
    EAST DETROIT ECORSE
    ELOISE FERNDALE
    FLINT GROSSE ILE
    GARDEN CITY GARDEN CITY MUTUAL AID
    GIBRALTER GROSSE PTE PARK
    GROSSE PTE WOODS HARPER WOODS
    HIGHLAND PARK HAZEL PARK
    HARRISON TWP. LANSING
    LIVONIA MILFORD TWP.
    MADISON HEIGHTS NEWPORT
    PLYMOUTH PLYMOUTH TWP.
    PONTIAC REDFORD TWP.
    RIVER ROUGE ROSEVILLE
    ROYAL OAK ROYAL OAK TWP.
    SOUTH ROCKWOOD STERLING TWP.
    ST. CLAIR SHORES SOUTHFIELD
    SOUTHFIELD TWP. TAYLOR TWP.
    WARREN WAYNE
    WESTLAND WYANDOTTE
    WINDSOR, CANADA

    Wayne P. Isken

  • Chief Kenneth Warfield, Ret. on July 25, 2013 at 12:14 PM said:

    I remember it well. I was on duty as a City of Wayne, MI. Fire Department. I lived in Detroit as a youth. I volunteered to respond with an Officer and other firefighters with one of our engines. Never will forget all those efforts by all firefighters.

  • sheryljayson

    The following submitted by Wayne P. Isken:

    On some pictures of the 67 riot you will see Firefighters in OCD (Office of Civil Defense) fire gear rather than their regular Detroit issued fire gear. It is assumed that these were Fire auxiliaries, not so, most were us regular Firefighters.

    Here’s what happened. We were called back from home, or just seeing a notification on TV, and told to respond to certain command locations rather than to our regular firehouse. I ran at Engine 31,….. Engine 42 was our command post.

    Every engine house had OCD fire gear (coats, helmets & boots) in their basement .Since we didn’t have our stuff we grabbed those to wear. Then we waited till an X-rig ( Old extra apparatus ) pulled up and jumped aboard.

    As there was more men then rigs we piled as many men on a rig as possible. When we left Engine 42 our X-rig (held 37 men). We were jammed in the back, in the cab and the outside holding on to anything and everything. We counted as we wanted to remember the number) This was the number of men on the rig I was on. Every X-rig was jammed with men. If some men ran across their own company during that day they left us & went with them. The ones that didn’t were dropped off at their regular company Monday morning.

  • Dan Bojalad

    I was 22 years of age with almost 2 years on the job. I was on duty at Engine Co. No 6 on the morning of July 23, 1967. Engine 6 was housed with Ladder 5, located at Russell & Wilkins in the Eastern Market.
    We were told, face to face, by the Battlion Chief 4 that there was trouble on 12 th. street.
    We were soon dispatched to a fire on Grand River and 12th. We pulled up on the scene and were surprised at the amount of buildings that were ablaze. We stretched our fire lines and began a 99 hour tour of duty. Remember waking up in the middle of 12th street laying on a 2 1/2 inch fire hose. We took turns manning the pipe (nozzle). Began hearing about guys getting shot at and pelted with rocks. Many of the residents I saw were very scared. I’ll always remember a young mother huddling with her 2 children in a doorway. She was terrified and said she had no where to go. Her house was torched and completely destroyed. Many of the home and buildings were beautiful well kept structures. A group of young men came up to our Engine Company and said you better get back on that truck and leave. We stayed and fought the fire. As I recall, we were the only company fighting this one building fire (Kentucky Fried Chicken?). This fire would normally call for at least 3 Alarms (about 5 Engines, 2 Ladder rigs, Rescue Squad – for a total of 40 men. We were doing it with 1 Engine and 5 men. There were plenty of fire crews working the area but they had there own building fires to contend with. Exhausting. My brother Norm was in the National Guard and was assigned to street duty. We never hooked up. Airborne troops arrived and things started to settle down. 2 fireman killed, 1 policeman. Over 40 civilians killed. Many injuries, some never reported. A bad day for our hometown.

  • Eleanor (English) Johnson

    My Dad, Bill English was a firefighter during the 67 riots. He was stationed at the quarters of Engine 42/Ladder 21 at the time. He is pictured in the photo you have posted with the tank! It was an absolutely awful time and I will never forget how frightened we all were when everyone was called back to duty!!! I will also never forget listening to the gun fire while on the phone with him one night with my mom!!! Dad’s quarters were a staging area and when they had some “down” time, he did manage to get some gritty home movies. Our family was staying with relatives down river during all of this unrest and we did come back for a brief visit with Dad, because he had been injured. He was able to come home for about a half hour after he was released from the hospital and then he was right back in the thick of it!

  • JimPorter

    As a TFF during that period, I wondered if I had chosen the right Career. My Wife and I got married the day the riots ended and if wasn’t for Captain Hank Meyers, I wouldn’t have made it to the church on time.

  • Not husband or father, but my uncle Alex Novikoff. He was my earliest hero. He went on to become a battalion chief before he died in 1974. I miss him so much. He loved the department.

  • Wayne P. Isken

    “FIRE FAMILY”

    THAT HELPED US AT THE BELOW BOX, AND THE MANY OTHER LOCATIONS THROUGHOUT THAT WEEK.

    BOX 526
    12 TH. & TAYLOR
    8:24 AM
    SUNDAY
    JULY 23
    1967

    CITIES RESPONDING

    BIRMINGHAM CLINTON
    COMMERCE TWP. DEARBORN HEIGHTS
    DEARBORN TWP. DETROIT
    EAST DETROIT ECORSE
    ELOISE FERNDALE
    FLINT GROSSE ILE
    GARDEN CITY GARDEN CITY MUTUAL AID
    GIBRALTER GROSSE PTE PARK
    GROSSE PTE WOODS HARPER WOODS
    HIGHLAND PARK HAZEL PARK
    HARRISON TWP. LANSING
    LIVONIA MILFORD TWP.
    MADISON HEIGHTS NEWPORT
    PLYMOUTH PLYMOUTH TWP.
    PONTIAC REDFORD TWP.
    RIVER ROUGE ROSEVILLE
    ROYAL OAK ROYAL OAK TWP.
    SOUTH ROCKWOOD STERLING TWP.
    ST. CLAIR SHORES SOUTHFIELD
    SOUTHFIELD TWP. TAYLOR TWP.
    WARREN WAYNE
    WESTLAND WYANDOTTE
    WINDSOR, CANADA

    Wayne P. Isken

    • Chief Kenneth Warfield, Ret.

      I remember it well. I was on duty as a City of Wayne, MI. Fire Department. I lived in Detroit as a youth. I volunteered to respond with an Officer and other firefighters with one of our engines. Never will forget all those efforts by all firefighters.