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Detroit firefighters use soda cans and fax machines to find out when there's an emergency

Testimony from a recovery consultant at Detroit's bankruptcy trial has revealed that the Detroit fire department uses Rube Goldberg machines made of fax machines, soda cans, coins, doorbells, and more to alert firefighters of incoming emergency reports. For example, at one station, firefighters carefully balance a soda can with a few coins inside on the edge of a fax machine. When a fire report comes in, the fax machine prints it out, and the paper knocks the can on the floor. The clatter lets the fire department know their help is needed.

The handmade contraptions have been built by firefighters because they don't have the budget to buy a modern alert system. City officials hope to spend $42 million in fire department upgrades over the next decade, but in the meantime, Detroit firefighters respond to more than 11,000 emergencies annually via soda can. --Bonnie Kristian