Detroit has more than double the population of Stockton, Calif., which had been the largest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy before Detroit trumped it last week.
Detroit fire Lt. James Edwards, 43, attended the court hearing Wednesday with some anxiety.
"It seems as though we're going to end up being the patsy for a lot of bad decisions that have been made over the years," said the 18-year department veteran, referring to his future pension. "You base your life decisions on promises made to you when you came on the job."
Belinda Myers-Florence, 59, said her pension is her only income after working nearly 36 years for Detroit, from bus driver to social services. She can't believe she may lose money because of the bankruptcy.
"It's going to have to hit me in the face," she said. "I just can't believe that they can go that way."