Blowin’ Smoke with Detroit’s Jim Plieth

Photo courtesy of 313 Photography

My name is Jim Plieth. I am an 18 year veteran with the Detroit Fire Department currently assigned to Rescue Squad 6. I am trained to tech level in trench, confined space and Haz-Mat and have a few high angle classes under my belt.

I am also a union rep for the DFFA and have been doing so for three plus years. I believe in the union movement very strongly and also respect the various other facets of the fire service around the country. Not every square mile of this nation can be covered by union Firefighters.

I am also Instructor 1 certified through the State of Michigan and am currently trying to find time to get my practical evaluations done.

How many years have you served in the fire service?


Why did you join the fire service?

I joined the fire service because I wanted to try and make a difference in the City that I call home. I think that every day we go to work in Detroit we are protecting the citizens to the best of our abilities and that’s a pretty good feeling.

Is there any distinct way that you have tried to make a difference?

Being involved in the union and also instructing, I think that I have been honored with the chance to serve my Brothers and Sisters in Detroit and also spread what I have learned from the Greatest Fire Department on the planet through teaching at a local community college.

Have you accomplished any specific personal goals during your career?

I continue to better myself through technical training and reading or watching anything that I can get my hands on the will better me as a Firefighter. I think being the best that I can is accomplishing the main goal that you set out with as a young firefighter.

What is the biggest change that you have witnessed in the fire service during your career?

The DFD is a different monster. We have scaled back on our aggressiveness concerning structure fires. It’s a huge change in a Department stepped in tradition.

What do you believe is the biggest challenge that the fire service faces today?

Get past this Risk/Reward crap. Lt. Ray McCormack said it best at FDIC a few years ago: “We are losing our edge and forgetting our oath. Save lives and protect property!”

What is the best firehouse prank that you might have “allegedly” been involved in throughout your career?

Seran wrap on the toilet. Doesn’t get much funnier. Or the bucket of water…a DFD tradition.

During your many years on the job, how were you able to push through the darkest of times?

We are in them right now. I’ll let ya know in a few years.

If you could provide some of the younger generation of firefighters with a few “words of wisdom,” what would they be?

The FIRST thing you do when you get to work in the morning………Make sure YOU and Your crew go home the next day!

For some of our readers that may not be aware of the situations that Detroit Fire is facing on a daily basis, can your provide some insight for them?

On an average day we are faced with doing our job with 40 fire companies for 139 square miles. So….that would be 40 Companies for San Francisco, Boston, and Manhattan combined. We have 52 rostered fire companies but due to manpower shortages and injuries we are reduced to between 40-45 a day. Our apparatus has an average of 104,000 miles on them. Our average age is above 48. We have 6 out of 950+ that are under the age of 30. We are using Engines as Rescues because the city has no rigs.

Explain just how bad the economy is in the area and the conditions you all are faced with on a daily basis.

The economy is turning around in the area. The city is not reaping any of the rewards on a widespread basis. Certain areas of the City are the fastest growing areas in the State of Michigan. The problem is….those areas do not represent the vast majority of the City. The areas where there are no growth look like a war zone in some spots and Beirut in others.  Whole blocks without houses. Vacant land abound. Burned out homes, apartment buildings, industrial complexes. A Municipality that was built for 2.1 million people cannot sustain an infrastructure that only has 700,000 people and is badly in need of updating and repair.

I’m sure with having to fight the battles frequently, many must wonder what keeps you going. What is it that makes you so dedicated? Even when you must feel like you’re fighting a losing battle.      

Dedication is something that is instilled in you from day one at the DFD. “We do more with less so we are certified to do anything with nothing.” That is a quote that I have used often in my travels throughout the country. I do what I do because I truly believe that those in the city have no other option. I care about people. I have a heart. Am I disappointed in the situation…..Hell yes! But what you have to realize is that these citizens didn’t ask for this. We are paying today for the Sins of those that were in charge before us. This didn’t happen overnight. It’s been going on for 50 years…if not longer.

For more information on the situations that Detroit is facing, I’d like to highly recommend everyone check out BURN! I wrote this review of the film last year, and have continued to share the film with my followers: The website for the film is, and they are also on Facebook here.