Firefighter takes day suspension rather than remove American flag sticker from his locker. The controversy from Chester City, Pennsylvania.

Fire Commissioner James Johnson from City of Chester website.
Fire Commissioner James Johnson from City of Chester website.

IAFF Local 1400

Chester Fire Department

In Chester City, Pennsylvania a battle over following orders and the American flag is brewing. Firefighter James Krapf was sent home without pay yesterday after refusing to remove a flag sticker from his locker. Krapf has been on the department for 11-years. The order came from Fire Commissioner James Johnson.

This is a one day suspension. The firefighter could face a two day suspension next, followed by three days. The next step is to the mayor and council and could be followed by arbitration if this isn’t settled.

You may recall a similar story last December in Newton, MA, where a firefighter and Iraq War veteran initially refused to get rid of his red, white and blue helmet. Thanks to STATter911.com reader Gordon Pippin for giving us a heads-up on today’s story.

Here are excerpts from a Philly.com article by Joelle Farrell:

Johnson directed the force’s 61 members to remove all decorations from the outside of their lockers over the summer after a firefighter posted a cartoon that others found offensive. The drawing, which firefighters said was posted by a black colleague, showed two black men and included a racial slur.

Some firefighters didn’t think the American flag was included in the ban. The flag is stitched on their uniforms, hangs on their trucks, and flies on a pole out front.

“The directive says ‘everything,’ ” said Capt. John Barbato, vice president of the department’s union. “I never would’ve thought the American flag would be included in that.”

Krapf removed a union sticker and a picture of a truck, but refused to scrape off the flag, a one-inch-square sticker that has adorned his locker for a couple of years, he said.

“Anybody who finds the American flag offensive shouldn’t be working there,” Krapf said yesterday.

“I said, ‘No disrespect, Chief, but I’m not scraping that sticker off my locker.’ He said, ‘OK. Go home.’ “

Banning all materials from locker doors was the simplest way to avoid bickering among the staff, Johnson said.

“How do we know what offends who?” he said. “I have to play Solomon here.”

Krapf, 31, said he hoped to speak with the union and the commissioner today and reach a compromise. He doesn’t want to miss more pay, and he’s worried that this will be a negative mark on his record.

“I certainly can’t afford to lose a day’s pay, but it’s something I believe in,” he said.

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