Paralyzed Detroit firefighter will lose benefits under bankruptcy plan

Jay Busbee

The city of Detroit's plan to emerge from bankruptcy is causing pain across the entire city, and according to My Fox Detroit's Charlie LeDuff, some of that pain is landing hard on people who can least bear it.

In a video commentary on the station's website, LeDuff brings the story of Brendan Milewski, a Detroit firefighter left paralyzed by an accident on the job. On Aug. 13, 2010, Milewski was fighing a fire when a chunk of limestone shattered his seventh thoracic vertebra. He's now a T6 paraplegic. 

"It's a complete loss of identity for me, to be in this position now and not amongst my peers, and seen as weak and feeble and handicapped and disabled," Milewski said. "I hate all these words. I hate that they describe me."

However, because of the bankruptcy and belt-tightening, Milewski received notice that his health care will be terminated by the city of Detroit on Jan. 1, 2014. He will receive $200 a month as a stipend toward other health coverage. For Milewski, it's a bitter pill to swallow given his history of service.

"When there's a school shooting, or when there's a building fire or a whatever, a car accident, hazardous chemical release, soldiers don't show up. When you call 911, we do. We're the first line of defense. And sacrificing our lives, our health, one would only assume that we would be taken care of. ... The benefits that we got, they weren't given to us. They were earned."

Milewski has received national attention for his role in the documentary "Burn," which seeks to bring attention to first responders who battle fires, including arson. Detroit has an estimated 30 fires set by arsonists each day.

"Even though my legs don't work, I still have a voice," Milewski said in September. “Instead of being seen as valued public servants like we were after 9/11, we've now become line items in a budget and legacy costs.” 

Contact Jay Busbee at or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.