Jerry Janosky, July 24th, 2016


Jerry Janosky, July 24th, 2016


In this interview, Janosky discusses living in Detroit and being called in to work as a fire fighter during the 1967 disturbance, fighting fires and the death of his fellow fire fighter and close friend, Carl Smith. He also discusses changes and life in the city after the unrest. Janosky is in ill health and has some memory issues.


Detroit Historical Society




Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI


Jerry Janosky Written Story:
Mary Ann McCourt Oral History:






Oral History

Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Jerry Janosky

Brief Biography

Jerry Janosky was born April 22, 1935 and grew up in Detroit, MI where he lived during the 1967 unrest. He graduated from Pershing High School and after enlisted into the Marine Corp. He was a Fire Fighter for the City of Detroit for 33 years and retired as a Captain. Janosky is a Polish American who lives in Macomb, Michigan. He is a father of four adult daughters and five grandchildren.

Interviewer's Name

Mary Ann Janosky-McCourt

Interview Place

Macomb, MI



Interview Length



Ciaran McCourt

Transcription Date



MM: Ok, today is July 24th and it’s 49 years since the Detroit riots.

JJ: That long ago?

MM: That long ago. Do you remember what you were doing in 1967?

JJ: You mean at the fire?

MM: Yeah, what were you doing July 24th 1967? What was your occupation?

JJ: We were fighting a big warehouse that was on fire.

MM: Ok, and then, can you tell me, we’re just gonna go back to before the riots, what you remember about living in Detroit in the mid 1960s. What do you remember about your neighborhood?

JJ: Oh, it was ok.

MM: It was ok?

JJ: Yeah

MM: And where were you living in 1967?

JJ: Where was I living?

MM: It was called 12130 Bloom Street.

JJ: On Bloom?

MM: Yep, you were on Bloom. And who was living with you there?

JJ: Barb.

MM: And who else? Your oldest daughter? What was her name?

JJ: Yeah.

MM: Maryann. And then there was… Jackie.

JJ: Jackie.

MM: And Carolyn. Right? Right. Ok. So where did we shop when we lived on Bloom Street? Do you remember some of the places we shopped?

JJ: We went into Hamtramck and shopped at the, what do you call…

MM: Well, we were around in that area. And then, do you remember what you did for entertainment back there? What did you do, did you go see sports?

JJ: Well I used to bowl.

MM: Okay, where did you bowl?

JJ: Palladium, Yes. Thanks.

MM: And you had season tickets to the Red Wings at Olympia, right?

JJ: Yeah I did that. 

MM: Right. What would you say the relationship was like in the neighborhood with the police? What kind of relationship do you think there was in that neighborhood then?

JJ: Ok, I guess. We got along with them.

MM: So tell me what you first remember about finding out about the riots.

JJ: We were in them.

MM: Right. So do you remember when we were at Grandma Frankowiak’s house and the phone rang and she answered it? Do you remember when you took the call?

JJ: Oh, well I don’t know.

MM: You don’t remember that? I remember her being at her house and her answering the phone and it was for you.

JJ: Yeah they wanted us to volunteer to help out.

MM: Right, because you were a fireman.

JJ: Right.

MM: Okay, so then you left? And remember before you left you told mom what to do, do you remember what you told her to do? Because we weren’t going to leave the house, we were going to stay.

JJ: Yes, Keep calm and don’t get involved in anything.

MM: Right. So then do you remember where you went to report for the riots?

JJ: Firehouse.

MM: And which one was that?

JJ: Milwaukee and Riopelle

MM: Right. So you were fighting fires and can you tell me some of the things that were going on when you were fighting the fires?

JJ: People were crazy, they were running out on streets and breaking windows.

MM: Right, while you were trying to fight the fires?

JJ: Yeah.

MM: Now were they trying to do anything to the firemen?

JJ: No, not that I know.

MM: Okay so they weren’t trying to hurt you or do anything like that, that you remember?

 {Silence, head shaking} [4:40]

Okay, so how many days do you remember the riots being?

JJ: Jeez, it’s hard to say.

MM: It’s hard to say. Do you remember that we couldn’t visit you at the firehouse? That we had to visit you at a ballpark?

JJ: Oh yeah, Ballpark on uh…

MM: Wasn’t it twelfth street?

JJ: No. Engine 52.

MM: And where’s Engine 52 at?

JJ: Whittier and… I forget.

MM: So why did we have to go to that firehouse.

JJ: Because that’s where all the firemen gathered up. On the East Side.

MM: I see. Okay, So do you remember Carl Smith?

JJ: Yeah I remember.

MM: And Carl was on medical leave because he had an operation, right? 

JJ: He had uh, what do you call.

MM: I think it was his appendix.

JJ: No, the other one.

MM: Gallbladder?

JJ: No.

MM: Oh. Hernia?

JJ: Oh where you go in for… [6:12]

MM: Well but it was an operation and he was on medical leave, right?

JJ: Right.

MM: So they called him in to do, what did they call him in to do? Because he couldn’t fight fires. What did he do, do you remember?

JJ: Well they told him to stay home, but.

MM: But he came in?

JJ: But he came in and volunteered.

MM: Right. I think I remember he did the dispatch, right? He came to the firehouse to dispatch?

JJ: No.

MM: No? What did he do?

(Goes back to appendix things [7:06] )

MM: So he wasn’t on the rig with you guys because he was still on medical leave.

 So he was at Milwaukee and Riopelle[7:12]? Is that where he came to volunteer?

JJ: Mhmm.

MM: Okay, and then, do you remember how he was killed?

JJ: Got shot in the head.

MM: Yeah and who shot him?

JJ: Rioter.

MM: Rioter? And was it at the firehouse?

JJ: No it was outside.

MM: Outside the firehouse?

JJ: Yeah.

MM: And he went outside to let the dog out?

JJ: Yeah he was supposed to stay in and he went out to wander and people [unintelligible] him.

MM: Okay, so do you remember was that in the beginning of the riots or near the end?

JJ: I’d say the beginning.

MM: Yeah I thought so too. So there was another fireman that was killed, and do you remember how he got killed?

JJ: He got electrocuted.

MM: Right. And how did that happen?

JJ: He was up on a high uh…

MM: Ladder?

JJ: Ladder. And his helmet hit the wire.

MM: Okay. Um, Carl was young when he died, right?

JJ: Well he was in his twenties.

MM: Yeah. And did he have a wife?

JJ: Yeah.

MM: And did he have any children?

JJ: Yeah a four year old boy.

MM: Yeah what was his name?

JJ: God…

MM: It begins with a D… Dwayne.

JJ: I would say Kenny but I don’t know.

MM: His name was Dwayne and his wife was Pat Smith. So then you remember his funeral? You remember what you did for the funeral?

JJ: I helped carry the casket.

MM: Right, you did. And then it was on the rig, right?

JJ: Yeah and we took it to the cemetery there in the city downtown.

MM: Right, called Mount Elliot.

JJ: No not that, the other one.

MM: Oh, Elmwood? You’re right dad because Mount Elliot is for the Catholic Firemen. And then do you remember an incident where Pat Smith wanted Carl’s hat for her son?

JJ: Yeah.

MM: And then what happened? What did you do?

JJ: They opened up the casket right at the grave. And took it out.

MM: Right. And they weren’t supposed to do that, right?

JJ: Well, they gave it to the kid. It had his badge on it.

MM: Right, because they almost buried him with it. So then what did you think it was like to be a firemen after those riots?

JJ: Well, we let it pass. We knew it was dangerous but we still stuck it out.

MM: Right. So one of the requirements for fireman was to live in the city and do you think other firemen stayed in the city or did they move out after the riots?

JJ: A lot of them moved out.

MM: Right.  And how did they show their residency if they moved out?

JJ: They used false addresses.

MM: Right and for those firemen that were living in the city and those that moved out, was their any contention among you at the firehouse?

JJ: About what?

MM: Well that some of you were still living in the city?

JJ: Yeah you know there was some that lived out and some that stayed.

MM: Yeah, how did you feel about that? How did you feel about still living in the city when other firemen weren’t?

JJ: I lived in the city.

MM: Did you like living in the city?

JJ: Yeah.

MM: Yeah. So then the following year we win the World Series.

JJ: The following year. Hooplah.

MM: So what do you think that did for the city? That we won the World Series after having the riots?

JJ: It gave the city a big boost. You know, everybody was happy and delirious so to speak.

MM: And do you have any moments or memories about that time? After the riots?

JJ: Bout winning the world series?

MM: About winning the World Series or about how live changed living in Detroit?

JJ: Like what?

MM: Do you think you life changed after the riots?

JJ: No I enjoyed it.

MM: How did your experience of the riots affect your life?

JJ: Well all I can say it was very hectic. People breaking into windows and robbing other people and it was very hectic.

MM: After the riots, what did you and mom do after the riots? Did you go somewhere after?

JJ: No we stayed in the city.

MM: You didn’t go away up north for a couple weeks after?

JJ: No.

MM: And how do you think the riots affected the neighborhood and the city? Did you notice anything happen after the riots where we lived?

JJ: Well I would say people were aware of what happened. But you just lived on, you know?

MM: Did you notice any people on our street move away?

JJ: No I don’t think so.

MM: Were they afraid?

JJ: No, ‘cause we were in a white neighborhood.

MM: You don’t think so? But then there were the projects that were a couple blocks from the house and were there a couple incidents that you remember happening to our house?

JJ: No.

MM: Nothing with an iron?

JJ: No.

MM: Ok. And what would your message be to future generations about the memories in Detroit before or during or after the riots? Do you have any message for your grandchildren?

JJ: Stay out of trouble!

MM: Stay out of trouble. What about what the riots did to the city? Do you have any reflection about being part of that?

JJ: Well, the city was beat up pretty bad.

MM: And what do you think about the city now?

JJ: All the neighborhoods are shot and beat up.

MM: Yeah. Is there anything that I haven’t asked you about the riots that you want to talk about?

JJ: Well, for one thing I wasn’t scared. I just went along with the program.

MM: So you never felt your life was in danger?

JJ: No.

MM: No? What about the other years of being a fireman?

JJ: Well they had passed and you got put up with it. Once it passed you know.

MM: Just did your job?

JJ: Yeah.

MM: Were you happy to serve as a firefighter for the city of Detroit?

JJ: Yes.

MM: And why?

JJ: I thought we did a good job.

MM: Yeah and what were the kind of men that you worked with?

JJ: What kind?

MM: Yeah what kind of men did you work with.

JJ: We worked with some white and some black.

MM: And were you good cooks?

JJ: [laughter] Yeah I learned.

MM: What was your favorite dish you could make?

JJ: Oh well I made a lot of stuff. Polish Stuff.

MM: Would you say that there were white and black firemen and so what was the relationship like after the riots with you working together?

JJ: Well we were pretty good chumps.

MM: That’s good. How long were you a Detroit Firemen?

JJ: 33 years.

MM: 33 Years. So you graduated from what high school?

JJ: Pershing in 1957.

MM: No I think it was ’53. And then what did you do after high school?

JJ: What did I do? Well you know I went to ball games and play golf and stuff like that.

MM: Did you enlist to become a marine?

JJ: Well I was in the Marines.

MM: Right and that was after high school?

JJ: Yeah.


MM: So you served how long as a marine?

JJ: Three years.

MM: Then did you see any action? Did you go to another country?

JJ: No we went to, what to do you call, to the Mediterranean, and that was on a ship.

MM: You were how old when you enlisted in to fire department?

JJ: How old?

MM: Mhmm.

JJ: Well I would say 23, something like that.

MM: As old as Caelan, that’s how old. And who was the mayor? Do you remember who the mayor was when you were a fireman? Roman Gribbs?

JJ: Roman Gribbs, could be.

MM: Well thanks for answering these questions about the riots. And were trying to see if you have anything else you wanted to say

JJ: All I can say is, it was very hectic and we were in there. And we had to put up with these people.

MM: What people?

JJ: The ones that were rioting.

MM: And did you notice any other law enforcement people in the city at the times that were helping?

JJ: Cops were out there but they didn’t do much.

MM: And why do you say that?

JJ: Because they didn’t want to get involved.

MM: Did you notice any other state police or tanks or anything?

JJ: No.

MM: No you didn’t notice that. Alright well thanks for doing this.

JJ: You know I had written a report on the riots but I don’t know if I can find it. In my looseleaf  cover.

MM: Hm. Do you know how long ago you wrote that?

JJ: Quite a few years.

MM: And what was the report about?

JJ: The riots itself, how it affected me and stuff like that.

MM: Ok, well, about a month ago, I went to Elmwood Cemetery and saw Carl Smith’s grave.

JJ: Did you?

MM:  Yeah, I did. And all the other firemen and then to Mt Elliott also has the firemen there.

JJ: Right.

MM:  Remember my friend Dan English from college, his dad’s in Mt. Elliott.

JJ: Dan English?

MM: I went to college with his son.

MM: Ok Thank you. This interview is over.

JJ: It’s the best I can do.


22min 38sec


Mary Ann Janosky-McCourt


Jerry Janosky


Macomb, MI


Jerry Janosky DFD.jpg


“Jerry Janosky, July 24th, 2016,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed February 24, 2024,

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