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Fire Officials Remove Thin Blue Line Flag, Reverse Decision After Community Outrage

Smithtown, NY – Smithtown Fire Department officials on Friday reversed their earlier decision to remove a Thin Blue Line flag from a fire department vehicle after someone complained because of “overwhelming community outreach” demanding it be reinstated.

“Newsday had contacted our organization regarding a complaint levied by a community member who felt the blue line flag on our apparatus was offensive,” the Board of Fire Commissioners and Smithtown Chief’s Office wrote in a statement on Feb. 26, according to the Smithtown Patch.

“While the initial decision to remove this flag was a difficult one, it was done in the ‘interest of harmony’ in order to err on the side of caution. But in response to receiving hundreds of comments from concerned residents who were offended by its removal, we have determined the best course of action is to return the flag to our Rescue Truck,” the statement continued.

Christopher Ring, an attorney for the Smithtown Fire District, said that the Thin Blue Line flag began flying on the department’s Rescue 9 truck in 2014 to honor two New York Police Department (NYPD) officers who were murdered in an ambush, Newsday reported.

NYPD Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos who were shot to death inside their police vehicle on a Brooklyn street on Dec. 20, 2014 by a man who vowed to avenge the deaths of black men killed by officers.

Ring said the Smithtown firefighters wanted to honor the police they worked with in their community, according to Newsday.

The flag has flown on Rescue 9 for seven years without a problem.

Ring initially said fire district officials decided to take down the flag after they got a complaint “in the interest of harmony.”

“There was no intent to offend anybody,” the attorney explained to Newsday. “They chose to err on the side of caution and replace the flag.”

Activists were pleased with the fire department’s quick work at removing the sign of their support for law enforcement, News12 Long Island reported.

“Fire departments are here to protect everybody, so to send a message that at all questions that is not what we want on a fire truck,” Elaine Gross, with the organization ERASE Racism, said.

Gross told News12 Long Island that she thought the fire department had done the right thing by taking the Thin Blue Line flag down.

But not all community members thought the dramatic move was necessary.

“The people who complain about that – then who do you call for when you need somebody? Don’t be crying,” said one woman who thought Smithtown firefighters should be allowed to fly the Thin Blue Line flag.

Another community member told News12 Long Island that he thought the firefighters should have some freedom of speech.

“You’re allowed to have your own opinion on things without it necessarily being a political statement,” he said.

The flag was only off the fire truck for a few days before the official relented.

“Today, we wish to note that our steadfast support of law enforcement has not changed and are proud we will continue to fly the blue line flag on our apparatus,” the fire department said in a statement. “The flag will be reinstalled on its fire apparatus [Friday] and will be flown with pride, with its original intention and meaning in mind, where it will remain.”

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Written by
Sandy Malone

Managing Editor - Twitter/@SandyMalone_ - Prior to joining The Police Tribune, Sandy wrote the Politics.Net column for the Wall Street Journal and was managing editor of Campaigns & Elections magazine. More recently, she was an internationally-syndicated columnist for Conde Nast (BRIDES), The Huffington Post, and Monsters and Critics. Sandy is married to a retired police captain and former SWAT commander.

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