At a century-old Detroit fire station surrounded by boarded up storefronts and weed-choked lots, the Motor City’s bankruptcy filing wasn’t exactly a surprise.
While his union sought a court injunction Friday to stop the proceedings and protect their retirement benefits, firefighter Frank Dombrowski resigned himself to the inevitable.
“Basically we’re screwed,” Dombrowski, 48, said as he stood watch over an isolated corner of the city where thousands of abandoned buildings regularly go up in flames.
The sweltering Engine 29 fire station encapsulates the city’s troubled history of boom and bust.
Built in 1907 when Detroit was a hotbed of industrial innovation about to put the world on wheels, it now houses a rickety fire truck that has more than 100,000 miles (160,000 kilometers) on its odometer.
“There is no central air and the basement floods,” said Dombrowski, who had shut the doors against the oppressive 96 degree Fahrenheit (36 degree Celsius) heat.
Like many life-long Detroiters, Dombrowski blames the city’s woes on decades of mismanagement, bad decisions and worse luck.
“I’ll tell you what killed the city — bussing back in the 1970s,” Dombrowski, who grew up on Detroit’s east side, told AFP.
Detroit was already experiencing white flight to the suburbs after the devastating 1967 race riots. The integration of public schools pushed more people out, he said.
As the population and tax base shrank, city services got worse and worse and the gulf between the city and the suburbs got wider and wider.
Motor City then saw its main employers go through round after round of mass layoffs as auto factories were automated or outsourced and Asian competitors siphoned away market share.
Once the fourth largest US city, Detroit has seen its population shrink by more than half from 1.8 million in 1950 to 685,000 today.
“The economy and Kwame Kilpatrick finished it off,” Dombrowski said, referring to the 2008 financial crisis that sparked a lengthy downturn and Detroit’s former mayor who was recently convicted of federal bribery charges.