Photo Credit Poughkeepsie Journal
POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. — American flags were removed from three fire trucks in New York on Tuesday sparking heated discussion on social media and disappointment from union members.
Arlington Fire Chief Tory Gallante was directed by the Board of Fire Commissioners to remove the flags from the backs of the trucks during Monday's meeting. He declined to comment on specifics of why the decision was made but said he is “very disappointed with their direction.”
Arlington Fire Commissioner Chairman Jim Beretta said the board majority feel the flags are a "liability during normal operations for our people and other motorists," and that the board had not been consulted before the flags were mounted.
The flags, which were only recently mounted on the trucks at the request of the union, were removed during a ceremony at Arlington headquarters in the Town of Poughkeepsie on Tuesday.
Union President Joseph Tarquinio said he's disappointed in the board's direction, but "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."
There was an open discussion about the issue at Monday's meeting "and each board member gave their opinion," Beretta said.
Two board members "had no problem with it as long as it was safe and not in the way of operations," Beretta added. Three board members "did have a problem with it for normal operations, citing liability and distraction to other motorists."
Tarquinio is pleased with the outpouring of support — Gallante said dozens of messages have poured in from around the nation, decrying the board's direction.
"I think (for) a lot of people ... (the issue) crosses political lines, moral lines, religious lines," Tarquinio said. "It's the flag of this country."
Online, reaction varied. Hundreds of people expressed outrage at the decision. Others said the display, while patriotic, violated U.S. flag code. Some said there are bigger issues to worry about and that displaying — or not displaying — an American flag does not make one person more patriotic than another.
The board did not take an official vote on the matter Monday, but "a direction (based on majority) was given to remove the newly affixed physical flags," Beretta said. "The board has the authority to provide direction to the chief based on a board majority."
Gallante said the firefighters union recently asked him if they could display American flags on the rear of fire trucks.
He granted the union permission to do so, as long as the flags were maintained properly and safely secured, and "at their (the union's) cost ... the flags were placed on the vehicles," Gallante said. The flags were "checked by our mechanics to make sure" they were safely secured.
After the flags were removed, Gallante said he hopes the outpouring of support will prompt the board to reconsider.
by Nina Schutzman