NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York firefighters have been forced to strip their lockers American flags, stickers expressing support for U.S. troops in Iraq and cards commemorating firefighters who died in the September 11, attacks, the firefighters’ union said on Wednesday.
The Uniformed Firefighters Association threatened to sue the New York Fire Department, claiming it violated the free speech rights of New York’s 8,800 firefighters and 2,500 fire officers. The action comes under an old policy more strictly enforced since early last month.
A fire department spokesman said flags and commemorative cards were allowed but offensive material was not.
“Over the past 18 months, the New York City Fire Department has made a concerted effort to eliminate offensive material from firehouses,” said spokesman Anthony Sclafani. “However, American flags and mass cards of firefighters killed on September 11, 2001, are certainly permitted.”
The union said it would distribute 10,000 American flag stickers on Thursday to firefighters to stick on their lockers in protest.
“They are proposing that these people who save lives on a daily basis can’t be trusted to maintain their locker,” said Uniformed Firefighters Association President Steve Cassidy, who demanded the policy be changed or said the union would sue the department on January 21.
The fire department has enforced the policy more strictly since early last month when a slogan considered degrading to women was found in a Brooklyn firehouse, a department source said.
Cassidy said such items as American flags and stickers supporting U.S. troops helped maintain morale. Some 343 firefighters died in the September 11 attacks on New York.
“Firefighters by and large are patriotic Americans; they care about the country and they care about the city of New York,” he said. “We consider ourselves a second family to Americans.”