Leave the flags, run the board out of town. Ridiculous.

American flags removed from Arlington fire trucks after board order

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Nina Schutzman, Poughkeepsie Journal 8:40 p.m. EDT August 16, 2016

(Photo: Nina Schutzman/Poughkeepsie Journal)

American flags were removed from three Arlington Fire District trucks Tuesday, sparking heated discussion on social media and disappointment from union members.

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 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 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.

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.

Nina Schutzman: nschutzman@poughkeepsiejournal.com, 845-451-4518 Twitter: @pojonschutzman

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