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Firefighters face challenges while assisting during riots

Posted at 1:57 PM, Jun 01, 2020

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — In 36 years of fire service, Grand Rapids Fire Chief John Lehman says he's never seen anything like it.

"It's not something that was unexpected," Lehman said, "but I'll be honest, I didn't expect this civil disturbance event to happen around this rally."

The Grand Rapids Fire Department prepared for days leading up to Saturday night's protests, but were still met with a lot of challenges.

"Between midnight and 6 A.M., we responded to 87 incidents," Lehman added.

Of those, seven were car fires including five Wyoming and two Grand Rapids police cruisers that were engulfed in flames. There were also three structure fires that were quickly contained.

"Luckily, we had a very limited amount of damage and our crews were able to contain those incidents," added Lehman, "I think we got very lucky in the amount of fire damage we had."

The fire department had difficulty responding to many of those calls due to the crowds of people surrounding the scenes, many of whom turned their anger on the firefighters, says Chief Lehman.

"There were a large number of people down there that weren't letting us through and actually, they were being hostile towards our efforts to try to protect and put out fires. They were throwing bricks, bottles, things like that at our people."

Chief Lehman says the fire department worked closely with Grand Rapids police, even having police officers embedded with their fire crews throughout the night to keep them safe. He also says they had to pick and choose their battles.

"We don't need to go in and put out a dumpster fire that isn't really doing other damage to anything," explained Chief Lehman, "that's not a good reason for me to subject my people to further injury."

He also adds that he understands the protests and why so many are angry but he's hoping they can express their frustration peacefully.

"Please demonstrate in a way that is not destructive, it's not helpful to anyone. It doesn't send a message in any way, shape, or form other than we're just angry and we can't live like that as a community."