Detroit Firefighter Line of Duty Death – Michael Johnson

Today in DFD history – December 12, 1977


Detroit Fire Department Firefighter Michael L. Johnson made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the citizens of Detroit. At the time of his death Michael was assigned to Ladder 11.

michael johnson

Photo courtesy of the Detroit Firemen’s
Fund Association history book.

On December 12, 1977 at 9:57 am Ladder 11 responded to an alarm of a fire at 3433 E. Warren. Ladder 11 proceeded out of quarters, turning left on Milwaukee. Firefighter Johnson was the tillerman of Ladder 11. Firefighter Johnson signaled the driver with 2 beeps of the buzzer that he was ready for the rig to move.

After crossing the railroad tracks near Widman Place the firefighter riding in the jump seat noticed Firefighter Johnson slumped over in the tiller seat. He notified the boss and driver of Ladder 11 that there was something wrong with Firefighter Johnson and the apparatus was stopped.

Investigations later revealed that Firefighter Johnson’s head was caught between an arched doorway in quarters and the tiller truck’s protective cage as the truck exited the building. Michael was killed instantly

The arched doorway divided the main apparatus bay and a small rear room where the tiller portion of the truck extends into when parked in quarters. Since Ladder 11’s quarters was built during a time when fire rigs were much shorter there was only 3” of clearance between the tiller bucket and the doorway.

It was concluded that Firefighter Johnson must have stood up to put on or adjust his bunker coat.

Michael Johnson joined the Detroit Fire Department on April 23rd, 1973. After completing the training academy he was assigned to Engine 35. On February 22, 1975 Michael transferred to Ladder 11.

At the time of his death Michael had been with the Detroit Fire Department for 4 ½ years. He was 32 years old. Michael had one son, 3 year old Oba Johnson.

Michael was posthumously awarded the Paxton Mendelsshon Award in grateful remembrance of those members who gave their lives in the line of duty. Michael’s son accepted the award in his honor at 56th annual Firemen’s Fund Field Day event at Tiger’s Stadium.

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