Jerry Janosky


Jerry Janosky


Jerry Janosky was a firefighter in Detroit in 1967.


Detroit Historical Society




Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI


Jerry Janosky Oral History:






Detroit Riots of 1967 by Jerry Janosky
My recollection of the Detroit Riots of 1967 is one of utter chaos. An early morning weekend raid of a 12th street speakeasy escalated into an inner city spread of riot, looting and arson. This culminated by many years of racial discrimination and frustration of equal rights. By the late afternoon, the situation had become crucial and out of hand. I can remember being contacted by phone about 5PM that Sunday afternoon to report to the Firehouse.
We relieved the crew on duty. They had been busy all day and needed a break. Our first response was a house fire in our first alarm district on the near Northeast section of the city. After extinguishment of the fire and return to quarters the streets had become a magnitude of people destroying store fronts & looting in a frenzy of open defiance of the law. Unless you were there witnessing this outrageous calamity you couldn’t believe that this was happening in the USA. One can only ascertain that the same events were going on in the ghetto area as we listened to the Department radio and heard of the many fires being reported by the first arriving engine companies. The city was in distress as mostly all Fire Companies were engaged in their profession of extinguishing fires and attempting to save lives and property. At times it seemed futile as the riotous crowd tried to keep you from doing your job for we were considered the establishment. In other instances the innocent people involved helped the Fire Department by stretching line in an attempt to put out their own house fire. Later, reports of sniper fire on Fire Department personnel while doing their job became more prominent. The reporting of such incidents was warranted as dangerous and central officer our communications lifeline ordered companies to leave their equipment and leave the scene. Our response to 12 Street was another unforgettable moment. Many hotel and tall buildings were on fire. Each structure in itself was a 5 alarm fire and here we were with a few companies per building to try and put out a major blaze. 12th street looked like the German Luftwaffe had done a successful bombing raid, as many structures were destroyed and the streets were littered with fallen walls and bricks. It is one scene I will never forget. Later that evening we responded on the near west side to an appliance warehouse. It was on fire but being looted at the same time as many TVs were removed. A nearby liquor store was broken into and its contents removed. We were there with another Engine Co. and as the night progressed we gradually got help as other companies appeared on the scene. We took turns aiming the heavy duty nozzles all night from outside the warehouse. I can remember entering a nearby apartment building in the area and dozing off for an hour or two in the stairway. As dawn emerged the fire was out. The police were on the scene arresting scavengers who had broken into the liquor store.
On the way back to Quarters, Woodward Avenue was a series of arrests, as would be looters of Jewelry stores, were held at bay with pistols in hand. At Quarters, the other shift relieved us as we had been busy all night and just needed a well-earned rest. The next day, it was determined that all volunteer companies from the suburban nearby cities would be manned by one fire prevention officer to direct them to fire responses in the city.
All Firemen are a universal brotherhood and we welcomed the outlying Fire Dept’s that came to our aid in a time when we needed them the most.
Another order came down that we would congregate in three separate areas in the city and respond from them. Downtown Headquarters - a Far West Engine Co. and a Far East Engine Co. was the plan.
Meanwhile, tragic news was aired over the Department Radio that we lost a firefighter on the west side. Electrocuted by high wires while on an aerial ladder. FF Ashby was the victim. Then, shortly another shocker. Carl Smith, one of our own Firefighters at Ladder 11. He came back on duty after being 5/ 6 weeks off due to an appendectomy. He responded with Engine Co. 13 and was killed by sniper.
We were ordered to Engine 52’s quarters at Alter road and E. Warren. That was the Far East headquarters that we would respond from. All Engines Co.’s were parked one behind the other, as were all the Ladder Co.’s. As the responses came in the first engine truck would respond and go back at the end of the line when they returned. Despite the Distance, we covered the whole east side. Meanwhile, the National Guard had been called in and were assigned 2 members per rig with rifled & ammunition. It was gratifying to know that we had some protection, while fighting fires. Eventually, the whole situation was declared a national emergency and a division of the US Army Paratroopers, the screaming eagles, were called in to maintain peace. They patrolled the city and a nightly curfew, finally quelled any further resistance or large scales of arson. As things died down, I was allowed to go home after 4 hectic days, reuniting with my wife & 3 daughters. (A 4th daughter was born 4 years later). I was all spent out and needed some time to relax and get back to normal. We buried our fallen comrades and resumed our regular schedule at the Firehouse.
In retrospect, the Detroit Fire Dept. performed admirably, under the adverse conditions. It will go down in history as such. Isn’t it ironic that this was our centennial year being organized in 1867.
I was proud to have served and done my part in this major catastrophe. I hope that such a situation never again exists and know that firefighters all over are there in the time of need.

Original Format


Submitter's Name

Jerry Janosky
Mary Ann Janosky-McCourt

Submission Date





“Jerry Janosky,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed October 1, 2023,

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