Fire commissioners in upstate New York ordered a fire department to remove U.S. flags that were mounted on its firetrucks because they said the display was a “liability” to the firefighters and other motorists.
Fire Chief Tory Gallante with the Arlington Fire District in Poughkeepsie said the Board of Fire Commissioners told him Monday to remove the two flags, which were fastened to the engine and the ladder truck.
“Obviously, I was disappointed with their directive,” he told The Washington Post.
Gallante said that about 50 firefighters, veterans and members of the community came out Tuesday afternoon for a small, impromptu ceremony to properly take them down. “The guys were upset about the decision and wanted to remove them with dignity and respect,” he said.
Video from the ceremony shows the emergency response vehicles lined up outside the Arlington Fire District headquarters, where firefighters stood at attention.
Both of the flags were taken down, properly folded and then handed to Gallante.
Gallante added that he was not told to remove patriotic decals on the firetrucks.
Joseph Tarquinio, president of the Arlington Professional Firefighters Association, said months ago, the union approached the fire chief, proposing to pay for the flags and requesting permission to mount them.
Gallante said he agreed, but had conditions – including that the flags must be safely and securely fixed to the firetrucks and kept clean and well-maintained.
Tarquinio said the union purchased two 3-by-5-foot flags made to withstand high winds and had them properly installed by the fire station’s own mechanic.
Tarquinio said, in the past, the department had U.S. flags on the firetrucks and would take them down during the harsh New York winters. When the department got new equipment a few years ago, he said, the flags were not put back.
“So with everything going on in the country, we thought it was time,” he told The Washington Post. “It was our way to show support – not for one particular sect, but for the nation as a whole.”
The new flags had been flying with no known issues, Tarquinio said, when three of the five fire commissioners expressed concerns about “liability,” which Tarquinio called “a gross overstatement.”
Officials said since the board’s decision Monday night, the fire department has been flooded with phone calls and emails from veterans and others in the community who oppose the harsh order. A “rally for the flag” has been organized for the weekend, according to the Poughkeepsie Journal.
Tarquinio told the newspaper that he believes, for many people, the issue “crosses political lines, moral lines, religious lines. It’s the flag of this country.”
He added: “If we had to take them down, they had to be taken down the right way. At the time when the country needs unity, to do something like this . . . it’s next to flag-burning in my mind.”
Arlington Fire Commissioner Chairman Jim Beretta could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but he told the Poughkeepsie Journal that,”This past Saturday I saw one of our pumpers on Hooker Ave. going to a call. It had a physical flag mounted to the back of it. None of the board was aware, or consulted that these flags were being affixed to the apparatus.”
He said although the board did not take an official vote, some of the commissioners, including him, were concerned about “liability and distraction to other motorists.”
Amid the controversy over the board’s decision, Beretta told the Poughkeepsie Journal on Wednesday that he had contacted the fire chief to talk about a compromise.
Gallante confirmed to The Washington Post that a meeting has been set for Thursday so that Gallante, two commissioners and two union representatives can discuss the matter.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Lindsey Bever