If I asked 10 random people to name a U.S. city that's in bad financial shape, I'd wager that most of them would place Detroit in their top three picks, if not the top spot itself. The Motor City has seen better days. It's population has dropped drastically, with thousands of people leaving the inner city for the suburbs or elsewhere. The city that boasted 1.9 million residents at its peak in 1950, now has fewer residents than it had in 1920, according to The Detroit News.

Huge swaths of the city are urban wastelands, full of wrecked, abandoned homes being swallowed back into the landscape by nature. In 2013, the governor of Michigan declared a financial emergency in Detroit, leading to the city filing the largest municipal bankruptcy case in U.S. history. This week, Detroit officially emerged from bankruptcy, with plans in place for a comeback.

Last month, a federal judge approved that bankruptcy plan, thanks in large part to a fundraising effort that was led by the Detroit Institute of Arts, which is owned by the city. The art museum raised more than $800 million and crafted a plan that places its art collections outside the control of the city, protecting it from getting caught up in any kind of future financial mismanagement.

Maybe now that the city can move forward working its way out of bankruptcy leaders can do something about how their fire department gets its alerts.

I wish I was making this up. In many fire departments in Detroit, calls generate faxes to specific stations. Firefighters at those stations have built a system where the fax, the piece of paper itself, upon being spat out of the fax machine, knocks a soda can full of coins onto the floor.

The clinkity-clank of the soda cans alerts the firefighters to run over and read the fax so they know where to respond.

More high-tech stations have built a sensor that detects the piece of paper which triggers an alarm. But even still, it all begins with a fax. A piece of paper spit out of a printer.

File this one solidly under "Not the Onion, but should be."

Watch the video showing the whole crazy system in action.

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Shea Gunther is a podcaster, writer, and entrepreneur living in Portland, Maine. He hosts the popular podcast "Marijuana Today Daily" and was a founder of Renewable Choice Energy, the country's leading provider of wind credits and Green Options. He plays a lot of ultimate frisbee and loves bad jokes.

How broke is Detroit? Fire stations get alerts by fax and soda can
That's no typo. The Detroit Fire Department has to rely on an antiquated, jury-rigged alert system that involves a fax machine and soda can full of coins.