In a stunning crackdown, the FDNY has demanded that all personal decorations, including flags and pictures of colleagues killed on Sept. 11, 2001, be removed from lockers.
The controversy began two weeks ago when a sexually explicit slogan was reported at Engine 230 in Brooklyn. In response, FDNY Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta banned all decorations, including American flags, "Support Our Troops" stickers, pictures of family and Mass cards.
Stephen Cassidy, the president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said the department has gone too far.
"We're tired of being treated like children," he told WCBS-TV. "It will not continue. If we have to take legal action we will."
Union officials said they planned to hand out 10,000 decals of American flags to firefighters so they could stick them on lockers in defiance of the crackdown.
The fire department later Wednesday issued a statement that sought to alleviate firefighters' concerns.
"Over the past 18 months, the New York City Fire Department has made a concerted effort to eliminate offensive material from firehouses. However, American flags and mass cards of firefighters killed on Sept. 11, 2001, are certainly permitted."
But earlier, it appeared the FDNY was sticking to its guns.
"No city agency should permit the work place to display inappropriate stuff," said Mylan Denerstein, the FDNY's deputy commissioner for legal affairs.
The union has retained civil rights attorney Ron Kuby to fight the regulation. Kuby once famously defended associates of the Gambino crime family and once handled a controversial plea deal for alleged mobster John Gotti Jr.
"Treating firefighters like unruly high school students is demeaning, insulting," Kuby said.
While some firefighters are fighting and dying in Iraq, Kuby told a news conference on the steps of City Hall, "we don't trust them to decorate their lockers?"
Many firefighters decorate their lockers with photos of loved ones, or fellow firefighters who died on Sept. 11 or in their regular line of duty. Yellow ribbons supporting the troops and American flag decals are also common.
FDNY is the largest municipal fire department in the United States, with more than 11,000 uniformed officers and firefighters.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.