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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bakersfield Fire Department American Flag Confusion

City fire chief clarifies policy on American flags on uniforms

BY COURTENAY EDELHART, Californian staff writer | Wednesday, Apr 06 2011 05:09 PM
Last Updated Wednesday, Apr 06 2011 05:09 PM

The Bakersfield Fire Department is trying to clear up confusion over a policy on the display of the American flag on Fire Department uniforms, a policy some have criticized as unpatriotic.

Several years ago, the city decided to eliminate the option of American flags embroidered on uniforms or sewn on as patches in favor of a metal flag insignia, also optional, that could be worn on a firefighter's nameplate.

That brings firefighters in line with the Bakersfield Police Department, which has the same policy, and standardizes the appearance of flags on firefighter uniforms.

Some city firefighters began wearing flags on their shirt sleeves after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Back then, the city didn't set parameters for how flags could be worn, which led to variation in appearance, including the direction the flag flew, said Chief Doug Greener.

Also, fabric flags became tattered and worn over time, whereas the nameplate flags are more durable, Greener said. They must be worn on the chest over the right shirt pocket.

"I really don't have a clue why this has come up after all this time," Greener said of some complaining privately that the policy is unpatriotic.

No disgruntled firefighters have spoken to the chief directly, he said, but he has learned of complaints through television reports.

The department gave firefighters more than a year of notice about the policy, which became effective Feb. 1.

"I think the majority of people agree that it's a non-issue," Greener said. "There is a very small minority that has a problem with this."

Indeed, Anthony Galagaza, Bakersfield Professional Firefighter Association president, said the union has no official objection to the change.

"You may have people who disagree with it, but we're a paramilitary department," he said. "Just like the military, we need to look standardized. A captain needs to look like a captain. An engineer needs to look like an engineer."

Galagaza said it was ludicrous for anyone to perceive the change as a sign that the department doesn't love the United States.

"You're not going to find anybody more patriotic than a fireman," he said.

Greener stressed that at no time has the department ever banned all flag displays.

The Kern County Fire Department allows flags on several parts of its uniform, including the right shoulder of turn out coats and pins above the badge over the right chest pocket, said spokesman Sean Collins.

"It's a personal preference," he said.


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