Trial By Fire

For awhile I couldn't believe this place on West Warren Avenue was abandoned. Then I remembered, "Oh wait, this is Detroit."

It's the old Detroit Fire Department Training School and Fire College, last used by the fire department in 2014. It was built in 1930-1931 and designed by Hans Gehrke who also designed many of the familiar Peoples' State Bank branches across the city, as well as almost every firehouse in the city that was built from the 1920s to 1930s, including the big fire department headquarters downtown.

Besides being a training school, it also served as a regular firehouse as well, with quarters for a ladder company and an engine company:

The book Firehouses of the Detroit Fire Department, by Jason J. Frattini says that this building was the home of Engine 12, and Ladder 9, which were originally organized at 12th (Rosa Parks) & Grand River in 1886 (you may recall that the DPD's 8th Precinct "castle" still stands on that same corner). In 1928 he says they were relocated to 12th & Merrick, and in 1948 they were both relocated here to this building. The c.1921 Sanborn map however shows Engine 12 and Ladder 9 headquartered at 4800 Grand River, on the small block also bounded by Warren and 15th Street (which you may know as the former location of the Architectural Salvage Warehouse). In any case, Engine 12 was disbanded in 1976, and Ladder 9 was disbanded in 1992.

The 1921 map also shows the site of this building to have been occupied by the "Warren Ave. Car Barns of the Detroit United Railway Co." prior to its construction (the c.1897 map labels them as the "Detroit Street Railway Car Barns").

Squad 4 was also based in this building at one time, but they've been headquartered at W. Grand Boulevard & McGraw for over ten years now.

The inside of the tower is actually hollow; there are no floors. I'm sure you can imagine that this structure was solely designed for training purposes, and to simulate working conditions for firemen in high-rises and apartment buildings.

It was getting dark, but we were determined to climb this bad boy.

Here is a simulated fire escape on the back of a high-rise building, and to the right is a simulated 2-story house with a pitched roof:

Within the Detroit Fire Department, trainees are called "trial men;" in other words they are being "tried," or given a try, to see if they are of any worth, before being accepted as firefighters.

Speaking of trial men, I recall this past DFD Field Day, where they were recruited to do grunt work such as setup and teardown of tables & chairs, and other physical work. The instructor was kind of a hardass, and he definitely handed out some PT for anybody who was screwing up. For what it's worth, there were a few trial women in there too.

Various classrooms were on most floors:

There are plenty of stories about the old training center in the amateur book 38 Years, a Detroit Firefighter's Story, by Bob Dombrowski.

On Dec. 30, 2018 according to, this building caught fire (yeah, it's always a little depressing when a fire department building catches fire). Although Deputy Fire Commissioner Dave Fornell deemed the fire suspicious, he said it was unclear whether it was arson, and that the case remained under investigation. I also noticed that a photo in the article seems to suggest that a hidden camera had been placed on the site to catch trespassers?

Mike Nevin, the president the Detroit firefighters' union, said that he had informed city officials—including Mayor Mike Duggan, Fire Commissioner Eric Jones, and Police Chief James Craig—that sensitive personnel information had been left lying around at the site. His claim was also "under investigation." Nevin had been critical of the department recently and the firefighters' union filed an unfair labor charge over the department's controversial response policy begun that August over the use of lights and sirens, which Nevin called a "public safety failure."

I don't remember seeing many documents laying around, so that must've been cleaned up after his complaints. It was interesting however to see what take-out menus the firemen had posted up on their bulletin board; I concurred in some of their restaurant preferences.

The rooms seen on the opposite side of the building here could only be accessed via a separate staircase; there was no crossover anywhere in the building:

I believe that side was designed to simulate elevator shaft rescues, as you will see when I get over there.

There are several black and white photographs depicting training activities at this facility on the Detroit Historical Society THIS one, "A firefighter has climbed to the top of a ladder apparatus' ladder beside the building's roof. Five other firefighters stand around the table of the ladder apparatus, while two more men wait below." It also explains that the marks on the building's rear wall indicated both "the height, as well as the length of a ladder needed to scale to that point."

Even though it was only five stories tall, the roof of this place was so high up it felt like being downtown...

Across the street at 2760 W. Warren was the original location of the Bowen Products Co., an early automobile industry parts supplier incorporated in 1917:

You may recall my post about the ruins of the Northway Motor Plant, back in those trees, and the water-tower skeleton that you can see here. In 1987 it was the site of the deadliest disaster in Detroit Fire Department history, which I describe in detail in an older post.

You can see the pointy roofs of the Edmunds & Jones Plant to the left, which I have also written about before:

St. Leo's Catholic Church, on Grand River:

On full-zoom, you can see the former Southwest Detroit Hospital, and even some buildings in Canada:

New Center:

Here you can see Lee Plaza to the north (also on Lawton), and the tower of the Sacred Heart Seminary beyond it:

Ooh, here comes a train:

Ahh, perfect...I bet you saw this shot coming from a mile away:

The Midtown skyline:

And here's a pretty interesting view of downtown that I've never seen before; superimposed behind the casino, superimposed behind an old church belfry...

Night falls.

A silent Warren Avenue. Funny story: the time my car got stolen in 2006, I started walking home westbound on Warren from the 13th Precinct on Woodward before one of my exploring friends came and picked me up right about here...

...If I recall correctly, he was afraid to answer my call because I was using the desk phone and it came  up as "Detroit Police Department" on his caller ID. I mean, I totally could've walked all the way home, but it sure was a time-saver to have the ride.

You can see gleaming new concrete sidewalks here, in an area almost devoid of residents:

As a matter of fact, the house where Stevie Wonder grew up was right in this neighborhood, at 3347 Breckenridge.

Here you can see the old Public Lighting Department substation across Lawton:

And now back inside, we went all the way down and then back up to check out the other side of the tower we couldn't get to before:

Like I said earlier, I think this side may have been to simulate elevator shaft rescues. A look inside of that numbered portal at the other side of the room revealed what looked like an elevator shaft:

There were large handles between each of these windows, and I believe they were also used for training in rigging and ladder rescue exercises.

Here are my other posts related to abandoned firehouses:
Detroit Fire Dept. Engine 22
Detroit Fire Dept. Engine 48
Highland Park City Hall, Police, & Fire Headquarters
Highland Park Fire Dept. Engine 4 / Ladder 3

Sanborn maps for Detroit Volume 2, Sheet 102, 103 (1921)
Sanborn maps for Detroit Volume 2, Sheet 96 (1897)
Firehouses of the Detroit Fire Department, by Jason J. Frattini, p. 51
38 Years, a Detroit Firefighter's Story, by Bob Dombrowski
The City of Detroit, 1701-1922, Vol. 2, by Clarence Monroe Burton
Cooking With A Smile at the Firehouse, by Lt. Edward Kwiatkowski
Home in Detroit, Where They Lived in the Motor City, by T. Burton


  1. I don't know if you remember me grabbing their Wyoming Fish Station menu, but Donnie finally found it on his fridge about a month later. He wrote me out of nowhere to say he was making food and discovered it, and I died laughing, lol.

    1. Yes I remember, I just couldnt remember which restaurants they had posted lol


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