Public Angry as FDNY Firefighters Are Told To Remove 9/11 Tribute Flag

Source: Instagram/kylereyesceo / Jonathan Slaff

The Fire Department of New York (FDNY) encountered significant criticism when a ladder company in the East Village was  told to remove an American flag with a red line. This flag’s purpose was to honor the memory of six firefighters that perished in the 9/11 attacks. The instruction followed a complaint that labeled the flag as a potentially “politically charged symbol.”

Complaint From The Community 

In a report from The New York Post the situation escalated when someone, who claimed to be a staffer for Democratic Manhattan Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, approached firefighters at Ladder Co. 11.

Source: Unsplash/Tim Wildsmith

The individual rode up on a and voiced concerns about the flag, claiming the flag was a “fascist symbol” and questioning its continued display outside the firehouse.

Internal Guidelines Of The FDNY

The FDNY has clear regulations that prohibit the display of modified versions of the American flag on their equipment; this policy was put into place in 2020 during a heightened social and political tension.

Source: Unsplash/Robert Harkness

This rule became the center of debate, as the department struggled with honoring fallen  firefighters while also abiding by their regulations. 

Political Symbolism 

In communication with FDNY, a representative of Councilwoman Rivera’s office asked about the flag, underscoring a constituent’s worry that it may be a symbol that isn’t authorized.

Source: Councilwoman Carlina Rivera

This inquiry highlights the complex nature of using specific symbols on public property, igniting  debate about what is appropriate for display on public vehicles.

Deputy Chief Joseph Schiralli  

Deputy Chief Joseph Schiralli, upon visiting the firehouse, issued an order of removal of the flag, citing a breach of department policy regarding the policy of altered flags.

Source: Unsplash/Jacob Narkiewicz

Regardless of being in agreement with the importance to honor the firefighters who passed and the significance of the flag, Schiralli stressed the importance of complying with guidelines.

Reinstated The Flag 

After receiving significant backlash, high-ranking FDNY officials, including Commissioner Kavanagh and Chief of Department John Hodgens, overturned the removal order. 

Source: Unsplash/Samuel Branch

This decision came as a relief to many, but it also sparked reflections on the initial decision to remove the flag, its consequences, and the processes leading to such decisions within the FDNY.

Widespread Upset 

The choice to take down the flag led to significant widespread upset, especially on social media platforms.

Source: Facebook/Henry Rosoff

Influencer Rogan O’Handley brought attention to the matter by posting a picture of the flag with a caption that expressed regret for the removal of the 9/11 memorial, igniting a larger discussion about the importance of these kinds of symbols in New York City’s collective memory.

The Flags Significance 

The red line flag was exhibited alongside the memorial on the fire truck, this honored six fallen firefighters from Ladder Company 11 who passed away on 9/11. 

Source: Unsplash/Anthony Shane

This presence of the flag next to the memorial showed the significance to the firefighters and the broader community as a symbol of sacrifice and remembrance. 

A Call For More Understanding

Firefighters conveyed a desire to have a greater understanding from people who were questioning the presence of the flag. 

Source: Wikimedia Commons

They proposed that having an open dialogue about the meaning of the flag and the significance of it could given them an opportunity to educate and helped create a better understanding, instead of the immediate call for removal.  

Political And Community Figures Reactions 

The incident prompted responses from a variety of political and community figures, reflecting broader debates about symbolism, the role of public servants, and the expression of values in public spaces.

Source: Wikimedia/Library of Congress

Councilwoman Joann Ariola condemned the flag being removed, citing it as an attack on First Amendment rights, underscoring the incident’s bigger political and social consequences. 

Councilwoman Rivera

Councilwoman Rivera responded to the controversy by making a statement about how her office did not directly contact Ladder Co. 11 regarding the flag.

Source: Wikimedia/Metropolitan Transportation Authority

She clarified that her contact to the FDNY was in response to a constituent’s inquiry about the flag’s legality and stressed her continued support for the fire department. emphasized her ongoing support for the fire department, citing significant funding allocated to improve the firehouse’s facilities.

Ladder Co. 11 Flag Restored 

The controversy over the red line flag at Ladder Co. 11 showcases tensions about memory, honor, and public symbolism.

Source: Unsplash/Lucas Sankey

Although the flag was eventually reinstated, the incident prompted continued discussion about how communities and institutions honor service and sacrifice within the bounds of policy and public perception. 

Previous Order To Remove Flags 

The recent incident mirrors a similar situation that transpired in 2016, where firetrucks removing American flags ignited nationwide debate.

Source: Flickr/David Yost

A fire department in upstate New York was faced with a directive from the fire commissioners, telling them to remove the United State’s flags that were mounted on their fire trucks. This specific incident was in regards to the “liability” for firefighters and other motorists.  

Emblems Of Patriotism 

Although the flags were removed, it was observed that decals that show patriotism are not subjected to the same rules. 

Source: Pinterest

Chief Gallante stressed the directive is aimed specifically at the flags, leaving other symbols of  patriotic display, such as decals, unaffected. 

Response From The Community 

In response to the directive, about 50 firefighters, veterans, and the community members came together for an impromptu ceremony to respectfully take down the flags.

Source: Unsplash/Alec Favale

Chief Gallante shared his disappointment stating, “Obviously, I was disappointed with their directive.” 

Display Of The U.S. Flag 

Months prior to the order for removal, Months before the removal order, Arlington Professional Firefighters Association had approached Chief Gallante with and proposed mounting the United States flags on the firetrucks, stating they would cover the cost.  

Source: Wikimedia/Sixflashphoto

Gallante gave his approval with the conditions that the flags would need to be attached securely, well-maintained, and kept clean. 

Tradition And Patriotism

The choice to remount the flags was driven by a commitment to reignite a tradition and express solidarity with the nation, especially during turbulent times.

Source: Unsplash/Jacob Narkiewicz

President of the Arlington Professional Firefighters Association, Joseph Tarquinio said, “So with everything going on in the country, we thought it was time. It was our way to show support—not for one particular sect but for the nation as a whole.”

Maintenance And Flag Specifications 

The union took careful measures to ensure the flags’ durability and visibility, choosing 3-by-5-foot flags designed to withstand high winds.

Source: Unsplash/Donovan Reeves

A fire station mechanic was given the task of proper installation, this demonstrates a deliberate and careful approach for incorporating the flags into the department’s daily operations. 

Liability Concerns From Commissioners’ 

The removal directives stemmed from concerns raised by three out of the five commissioners.

Source: Unsplash/John Angel

Tarquinio deemed this liability as “a gross overstatement,” it ignited a debate with the community and the fire department about the balance between displaying national pride and ensuring safety and compliance with regulations. 

Heated Debate 

During a rally that came from the controversy in the Arlington Fire District, Frank Basso, a commissioner, voiced his viewpoint on the issue, emphasizing the need for clear guidelines during emergency responses.

Source: Unsplash/Anna Mircea

Basso stated, “In the course of responding to an emergency, I don’t believe it’s appropriate to have a flag on a fire truck,” “It’s as simple as that. The rules are very simple. You can do this and you can’t do that. When you’re responding to an emergency, it’s an emergency vehicle.” 

Support And Opposition

The fire department was inundated with support from the community, with many phone calls and emails from the community and veterans expressing their opposition to the commissioners’ order.  

Source: Unsplash/Bernd Dittrich

This overwhelming response highlights the symbolic importance of the flags to the community.

Symbolism Of Flags 

Mounting the flags on the firetrucks was not just an act of decorations but a purposeful gesture of national support, according to Tarquinio.

Source: Unsplash/shota James

Tarquinio’s remarks underscores the inclusive intent of this initiative, seeking to represent the nation as a whole rather than any specific group or ideology. Especially during times of turmoil and divide.  

Flag Removal Response 

Contemplating the two incidents of the flag removal,

Source: Wikimedia/South Carolina Governor Nikki R. Haley

it is apparent that they symbolize a larger  dialogue about patriotism, respect, and public sentiment. 

Reaction From The Public 

The instruction to remove the flags ignited a significant debate surrounding the Arlington Fire District and its surrounding community.

Source: NPR/Tyrone Turner

The subsequent support for the flags, manifesting in phone calls, emails, and the planned rally, highlights a widespread belief in the importance of national symbols in fostering unity and expressing collective values, especially among those serving in public safety roles.

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Athena Hallet

Written by Athena Hallet

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