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Checking fire extinguishers and sprinklers, a handful of workers are last vestiges of fire department at Flint’s old Buick City complex

 

Bryn Mickle | bmickle1@mlive.comBy Bryn Mickle | bmickle1@mlive.com 

on September 27, 2008 at 12:00 PM, updated September 27, 2008 at 12:10 PM

 

Ryan Garza | The Flint Journal“At one time there used to be 32 guys on this fire department. It was quite a booming place in it’s day,” says Buick Fire Department firefighter Joseph Huber (center). “We’re a dying breed. There’s no full-time GM firefighters anymore. We’re all just kind of fading away little at a time.” “It’s nothing like the city of Flint. These guys are running hot to a house that’s burning. We’re out here trying to keep the stuff from burning.” Also pictured is firefighter Edward Ferguson.

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.

File photo A 1950 photo of Buick City Fire Department firefighter Claude W. Peake.  

 

“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.  

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Here is the Buick fire hall building #97 in 1950. This would be the area fronting on Division Street. Don Bent states in his book “A Place Called Buick” that this was built following World War II, but I question that timeline because of the architecture of the building. I went by here many times and never paid much attention while Leonard Thygesen says the brick used in it’s construction was the sandstone type from the early teens and that the lower bricks of the foundation were eaten away by road salt over the years. You will have to make your own opinion on when this was built until better information surfaces.  LINK: 

A Place Called Buick (Second Edition)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This photo from Don Bent’s book “A Place Called Buick” only shows about one third of the actual size in this photo and was taken from the north on Division Street. Don states it was built between 1926-1927 but I actually think that was when the original building was expanded in size.

 

 

 

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 composite that I created shows the foundry on the left with the sand shed on the right. These two photos were from The Buick Gallery and Research Center.

The red arrows show the location and direction that the photos in the composite (shown above)  were taken. This view is facing north-east while the composite is from the north-east.

This 1920 Buick layout shows #21’s location relative to the other buildings of that era.

 

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: 

Pattern & Die Shop World War II.

This late teens photo shows the #20 foundry running along Division Street with the sand shed #21 shown by the red arrow. This building is fronting on Leith Street where the future building #85 will be built in 1932.  

Link: Buick Personnel 

The bridge for delivering engine blocks to the engine factory obviously makes this later than the previous photo. The sand shed is shown in the background (red arrow).

This view from the north in 1930 shows sand shed #21 at it’s full size. 

This view of the Buick north of Leith is circa 1947 and shows the location of the sand shed (red) and fire hall (yellow).

 

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 early 80’s bombsite photo shows the location of the old sand shed (red arrow) and fire hall (yellow arrow).

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: 

Leonard Thygesen Demolition Videos and Buick Prints.

 

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