The week leading up to September 11 is a time of mourning and patriotism in the United States. People remember the terrorist attacks that took place in 2001 and honor those who were lost. American citizens proudly display their flags and decals that represent the belief that we should never forget what happened that day.
Perhaps that’s why it came as such a shock when Chief Bronaugh of Maywood, Illinois, issued an order to all his firefighters that they were not allowed to display their American flag stickers in their lockers or on their helmet. As a result of the order, four firefighters were relieved from duty on Tuesday.
The firefighters in question refused to remove their American flag and marine decals from their lockers. For at least one of them, it was more than an affront to his patriotism; it was a matter of history.
David Flowers Jr. and his father were the first African American father and son in the department. On his locker is a U.S. Marines decal from over 30 years ago. The sticker was only issued to Vietnam veterans and is irreplaceable.
“My dad was a firefighter for 26 years in Maywood,” Flowers Jr. said. “I took over his locker. And on the outside of his locker I have a Marine Corps decal … it’s been there for well over 30 years.”
Flowers Jr. continued, “if it’s something offensive, I could see that and guys don’t have a problem with falling in line. But when you’re talking about the American flag, or as in my case a Marine Corps decal, I mean, people take pride in this — this is America, this is where we work.”
Chief Bronaugh indicated that his decision to implement a no decal policy for the firefighters had nothing to do with the American flag. Instead, he said it was about keeping the department uniform and about ensuring there was no racism displayed.
“All it would take is for a visitor from off the street who could be there for any reason, whether it’s to visit the fire station or to be treated for a medical emergency, or need the fire department for whatever reason, to see these pictures and to draw the conclusion that there are racist firefighters working in this fire house,” Bronaugh said.
He was referencing an old picture that had been put up on a locker of a monkey smoking a cigarette.
Firefighters reported that the picture was a private joke between two firefighters and was never intended to be racist. They also report that the picture was put up 10 years ago and hasn’t been up since.
The four firefighters suspended (two Caucasians, one Cuban and one African American), told reporters that there was no racial disharmony in the department at all. They stated that the order to remove stickers was placed by the chief one week ago after some of the firefighters took it upon themselves to replace the torn and tattered American flag in their station with a brand new one.
The flag that had been purchased by the firefighter’s personal money disappeared the next day.
Adam Rosen, a union spokesman, was shocked to hear that the order was issued so close to September 11.
Since the incident, the union has taken action and the order to remove the decals has been rescinded. Chief Bronaugh is now distributing American flag stickers to all the firefighters. The four firefighters that were suspended have been allowed to return to duty.
The union is still calling for Chief Bronaugh’s resignation.
[ Images courtesy of WBBM-TV and Singing Through The Rain ]