Fire Chief Tory Gallante of the Arlington Fire District spoke about the increased attention the department has gotten following the removal of the American flags from their fire trucks.
Will flags return to Arlington Fire District trucks after their removal attracted national attention and criticism? A compromise may be in the works.
The chairman of the Arlington Board of Fire Commissioners said he’s reached out to Chief Tory Gallante to discuss the possibility of a compromise about the use of American flags on fire trucks.
American flags were removed from three Arlington Fire District trucks Tuesday, sparking heated discussion on social media and disappointment from union members.
Gallante was directed by the board 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.
On Wednesday, Beretta told the Poughkeepsie Journal that he has reached out to Gallante and offered to sit down for a discussion with him “and whomever he wants to pull together … to have an initial conversation on how we might come to a compromise, some solution.”
Gallante said he, union members and board members are planning to meet on Thursday to “start discussing flag matter.”
“I hope eventually this will get resolved,” Gallante said.
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 Tuesday.
American flags removed from Arlington fire trucks after order
The Arlington Fire District was not the only local organization to affix flags to its trucks. Hughsonville and Poughkeepsie are among departments that have used cloth flags, while others, including Arlington, feature flag decals on the trucks.
William H. Beale, a public information officer for Hughsonville Fire Department in Wappingers Falls, said the department has flown flags on the rear of its trucks since the 9/11 attacks.
“Our fire department has taken pride with displaying the flag on each of our apparatuses,” Beale said. “When it was brought to our attention (Tuesday) that this was happening at another department, we were surprised that anyone would encourage a flag to be removed.”
Hughsonville Fire Department members plan to attach one of the flags to its ladder truck in a ceremony at 6:30 p.m. today, Wednesday.
The City of Poughkeepsie Fire Department has displayed the American flag on its trucks since 9/11, according to Chief Mark Johnson.
“We don’t agree with the decision (in Arlington) and feel the flags were an appropriate tribute,” Johnson said.
The fire department has received dozens of calls and emails regarding the controversy, primarily from people mistaking the City of Poughkeepsie Fire Department with Arlington.
Trucks in the Amenia district are affixed with flags for ceremonial events. But they are not attached during everyday service, according to Chief Christopher Howard.
Howard said he was “shocked” by the Arlington board’s decision and saw no reason to ban the flags, as long as they do not impact operations.
“I don’t see where it was really harming anything,” he said.
In the Fairview Fire District, there are a number of flag decals on apparatus and turnout gear, but no cloth flags, according to Chief Christopher Maeder.
“Many of our personnel also display flags on their helmets, myself included,” Maeder wrote in an emailed response. “To the best of my knowledge, we never had cloth flags on our apparatus as a standard thing. However, I do recall putting them on the rigs on certain occasions (such as) 9/11 memorial events and parades.”
Maeder said any display of the American flag should be done according to the U.S. Flag Code.
“Other non-essential or decorative items would be considered by me on a case-by-case basis,” he said.
Beale, who was chief of the Hughsonville department between 2001 and 2002, called the decision by the Arlington board of commissioners “outrageous.”
“We are a month away from the 15th anniversary of 9/11,” Beale, a 24-year veteran of the department, said. “9/11 was the largest loss of firefighters’ lives in any single incident. Flying the flag on the back of a fire apparatus has become a tradition. It started with the New York City fire departments and was meant to support our country as a whole. To see anyone voluntarily ask or direct to have a flag removed from a back of a fire apparatus goes against that tradition.”
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.”
Beretta said there was an open discussion about the issue at Monday’s meeting “and each board member gave their opinion.”
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 and 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.
A “rally for the flag” has been scheduled for Saturday at noon at Arlington’s Croft Corners Fire Company station on Spackenkill Road in Poughkeepsie.
Beretta, along with board members Joseph Armstrong and Jose Seco, were in favor of removing the flags, Gallante confirmed. Board members Kenneth Muckenhaupt and Jon Adams were not in favor of removing them.
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.”
Beretta said there were a number of items the board approved “for the benefit of the Union and District” during Monday’s meeting, including out-of-state training for two firefighters, two new engines/pumpers, and new patches for the union’s duty uniforms, among other things.
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.
“This past Saturday I saw one of our pumpers on Hooker Ave. going to a call,” Beretta said. “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.”
The fire trucks do have flag stickers on them and “we were clear that we had no problem with them or with flags being mounted on the apparatus for parades and ceremonies,” Beretta added. “These flags being mounted is a new event, not more than a month or two old if that, from what I am told by the chief.”
The board’s direction “did nothing more than continue operations as it always had been minus the newly mounted physical flags that the board had no prior knowledge of and a majority felt was a liability during normal operations for our people and other motorists,” Beretta added.
After the flags were removed, Gallante said he hopes the outpouring of support will prompt the board to reconsider.