BY TONY BRISCOE
THE DETROIT NEWS
Detroit — Another D brand is catching fire.
With much interest for city apparel sparked by Kid Rock’s Made in Detroit label and Chrysler’s Imported from Detroit brand, Detroit firefighters also are capitalizing on Detroit fever.
Forget NYPD. This is DFD.
The Detroit Firemen’s Fund Association, founded in 1866, operates a modest shop tucked away on the second floor of Detroit Fire Department headquarters at 250 W. Larned St. that sells DFD merchandise to support the families of disabled and fallen firemen
“By the end of the week all these shirts will be gone,” Lt. Christopher Dixon said recently as he unloaded two large boxes of T-shirts. “Everybody wants something from Detroit because we’re synonymous with fighting fires.”
The walls of the store are lined with historic fire memorabilia, including old helmets and axes, pictures of Detroit firefighters operating horse-drawn fire equipment and hundreds of patches from fire departments across the country.
The store sells DFD winter hats, varsity jackets, souvenir shot glasses and a number of distinctive T-shirts.
In the 1980s, the association decided to sell merchandise after seeing groups sell shirts for Angels’ Night. Since then, the store’s range of collectibles has grown immensely, raising about $250,000 annually that goes toward funeral costs, burial plot maintenance and supporting long-term disabled firefighters.
“Usually, if there’s an event at Cobo Hall, people will see there’s a firehouse and they’ll ask the guard downstairs if someone sells T-shirts or patches,” said Debbie Lyon, the fund’s office manager. “And once they come upstairs, they’ll go, ‘Wow we didn’t know we had this much to choose from.’ ”
When Dixon became a trustee, there were only two types of DFD shirts. Now, there are 10 T-shirt styles for sale online with even more in stores.
“They have a lot of nice stuff,” said Capt. Darrell Freeman, who came to check out the store on Wednesday with his crew from Ladder 6. “It went from nothing to a whole lot, for sure. They have a big variety.”
The department even allows firefighters to wear some shirts on the job.
“The change has been drastic,” Sgt. Curtis Golson said. “It used to be a shirt and a hat maybe, but now we can get our whole uniform almost, now.”
Some of the T-shirts support a specific undertaking. The fund sold shirts to fund a project to restore a decommissioned Detroit fire rig to take part in Michigan firefighters’ funeral ceremonies. The fund also is continuing to restore a decommissioned DFD 1937 Seagrave Safety Sedan, which currently acts as a hearse transporting fallen firefighters on their “final run.”
Some of Dixon’s other T-shirt designs include a Maltese cross containing Detroit’s skyline engulfed in flames, a rendering of a “run book” that firefighters use to catalog fires, and two firefighter axes behind a biker-gang-style skull. The designs vary, but most contain the slogan “24/7.”
“We just want to let people know we’re still on the job 24/7,” he said.