Days prior to the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, several firefighters from a Chicago suburb were suspended after refusing to adhere to a controversial mandate issued by the station’s fire chief.

On Tuesday, four Maywood firefighters revealed they had been suspended for displaying patriotic stickers on their helmets and lockers.

The first responders told Chicago’s WGN it all started when they decided to replace an old flag inside the fire station with a newer one. When the chief removed that flag without explanation, the firefighters began posting flag stickers on their gear.

Maywood Fire Chief Craig Bronaugh defended his mandate by claiming the stickers could somehow be misconstrued as “racist,” and specifically pointed to a picture on a locker of a monkey smoking a cigarette.

“As a fire chief here, I cannot afford nor tolerate,” Bronaugh asserted, and he subsequently issued a memo officially banning stickers.

“It feels wrong,” Staff Sgt. Jesus Aguire said. “I was offended that they would want me to do something like that.”

The suspended firefighters were of mixed races, one was black, another Cuban and the other two white. The firefighter responsible for the monkey sticker argued that it was an inside joke aimed at encouraging a co-worker to quit smoking, and claimed the sticker had been up for ten years. Additionally, the “offensive” monkey sticker had already been removed.

'Racist' monkey picture which spurred fire chief's actions. / Image credit: CBS Chicago
‘Racist’ monkey picture which spurred fire chief’s actions. / Image credit: CBS Chicago

“I’m floored that he would even consider this two days before 9/11,” firefighter Dan McDowell told NBC Chicago. “It’s ridiculous.”

A former marine, whose father had served in the same fire department for 26 years and whose locker he had inherited, was among those suspended after he refused to remove his father’s Marine Corps decal sticker.

“We are the first African-American father and son on the Maywood Fire Department,” firefighter Dave Flowers told NBC. “It has sentimental value.”

Yesterday, following public uproar, Chief Bronaugh announced a reversal of his sticker ban and reinstated the suspended firefighters.

“After review, I made a decision to put department issued flags on every locker and in every locker room,” Bronaugh stated at a press conference, claiming the firefighters blew the order out of proportion.

But the damage had already been done. The chief’s ban was ill-timed, occurring during the week of the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and many saw the ban as an encroachment on free speech.

“I come from a country where I couldn’t do that,” firefighter and Cuban immigrant Evergito Herrera said. “The government would tell me what to do and that’s why my parents took me out of Cuba.”

Now the firefighters’ union has filed a complaint with the Illinois Labor Relations Board alleging the fire chief refused to cooperate with their efforts to diffuse the situation early on, and claiming the chief stifled the firefighters’ First Amendment rights.

“It’s about freedom of speech, and there should be nothing wrong with them expressing their patriotism,” said Adam Rosen, a union spokesperson.

Additionally, the labor union is now asking the fire chief to resign.

News of the ban dovetails with recent reports suggesting a demonization campaign aimed against patriotism, the American flag and soldiers in general, including one story in which a U.S. Army officer was recently denied entry to his daughter’s high school after the school’s security officer deemed his military uniform “offensive.”

Last month, we also recounted the story of an 86-year-old Ohio woman who was fighting an order by her apartment complex to take down her American flag, which she had flown for 36 years.

And the demonization effort reached overt levels earlier this year when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ban at a California high school barring students from wearing shirts emblazoned with images of the American flag on Cinco de Mayo.

It is widely speculated American patriotism is being eroded to pave the way for the cultivation of a North American Union, which would require citizens of the United States, Canada and Mexico to surrender their national sovereignty.

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