09/11/2014 04:36 pm ET Updated Sep 11, 2014

Firefighters Asked To Remove American Flag Stickers Right Before 9/11 Anniversary

Four suburban Chicago firefighters were briefly suspended this week for refusing to remove patriotic stickers from their gear.

Village of Maywood Fire Chief Craig Bronaugh Jr. had issued an order that all decals and stickers be removed from firefighters' helmets and lockers. The four firefighters were sent home Tuesday after refusing to remove decals that included American flags and Marine Corps emblems.

"I'm floored that [Bronaugh] would even consider this two days before 9/11," firefighter Dan McDowell told NBC Chicago on Tuesday. "It's ridiculous."

Firefighter Dave Flowers Jr. is the younger half of the department's first African-American father-son legacy. He inherited his locker from his father and with it, a sticker of U.S. Marine Corps insignia issued to Vietnam veterans that his father had displayed for 26 years. "It has sentimental value," Flowers told NBC.

Bronaugh initially told WGN on Tuesday he moved to ban emblems to address concerns of racism in the department. Complaints had been raised over a picture of a monkey smoking a cigarette that had been taped to a locker, he said.

By Wednesday, however, the fire chief said the ban was prompted by a facilities renovation at the department and the desire to "have a uniform appearance among his employees," the Tribune reports.

Other Maywood firefighters, including the four who were briefly dismissed, say that racism is not an issue in the department and that the picture of the smoking monkey was decades old. Former Maywood firefighter Michael Hess, who posted the picture, told CBS Chicago it was briefly put up 10 years ago to "jam up" a fellow firefighter over his chain smoking habit.

After reversing his decision, Bronaugh told the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday that the controversy was "blown out of proportion," as the paper put it.

Though the suspensions were resolved, the issue may not be over. The local firefighters union filed a complaint Wednesday with the Illinois Labor Relations Board alleging, among other things, that the department violated the firefighters' freedom of speech.

Flowers told NBC that On a day when many firefighters are remembering fallen colleagues, there are still some hard feelings over the way the suspension went down.

“It's very hurtful and disrespectful the way things turned out,” he said. “Guys had 9/11 [stickers] ... on their helmets. It means a lot to us. Mine has been on [my helmet] since 9/11.”



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