Flint, MI— The Flint Fire Department is urging Flint Community Schools to secure their vacant buildings or risk paying a fee every time the fire department responds to a call at district-owned buildings. 

Over the past few years, there have been “at least” 30 vacant structure fires at Flint Schools’ properties, Sergeant John Smith Jr. told the Board of Education Jan. 19. 

“The fire department has sat down with different members of the board and representatives of Flint Community Schools, and nothing’s been done. So, the fire department has decided to charge the Flint Community Schools system every time we get called out for a commercial structure fire,” Smith said. 

But Fire Chief Raymond Barton said the decision to charge the district is not final and the message served more as a “discussion piece.” 

“Because that was stated, maybe now we’ll have a more serious conversation. The firefighters and the building inspectors, they feel like they have been going unheard. So, we looked at (a fee) as a possible option,” Barton said. “It’s not an issue of charging the school, we want the buildings secure.” 

The city’s Director of Communications Melissa Brown confirmed the district has not been fined. 

“Flint Community Schools have not been charged for any fire at their buildings. The Flint Fire Department’s priority is the health and safety of the community and would like for FCS to secure their buildings. There have been excessive responses to fires at FCS owned buildings,” Brown said. 

The fire department has responded to 10 fires at Flint Schools’ buildings in the last two months, Barton said.

The Flint Fire Department battles a blaze at the former Washington Community School on the east side of Flint, Mich. in the early morning hours of Oct. 7, 2021. (Courtesy of Travis Ricketts)

Additionally, in October 2021 Flint Northern High School and Washington Community School caught fire in the same week. Washington was completely destroyed. 

Barton said he recognizes that Flint Schools is under new leadership and wants to “give them a chance” to take action when previous administrations haven’t. 

“We do understand that it’s a new board and we’d like to come to some type of resolution,” Barton said. 

Trustee Allen Gilbert said he hopes to find a solution. 

“We should not set out to fine and to seek out a way to punish someone because they are in violation,” Gilbert said. “It should be a way that we can resolve this and make it right. And that’s what I’m looking for,” Gilbert said. 

The fire department and Flint Schools are working to schedule a meeting, Barton said. 

“On the fire side of it, we’re just doing our job. We want the community safe. I want my firefighters safe,” he said. 

Carmen Nesbitt is a journalist with diverse experience in news reporting and feature writing. She wrote for Hour Detroit and SEEN Magazine before joining the Flint Beat news team as an education and public...