Fire Trucks to Keep Waving Flags

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The Portland, Ore., Fire Bureau on Tuesday rescinded an order to remove American flags from fire engines after hordes of complaints from the public and firefighters about taking down Old Glory.

"The firefighters were complaining, the citizens were complaining -- it was a lot of public outcry against the decision," Tom Chamberlain, president of the Portland Firefighters Association, told A firefighter for 25 years, "I've never heard of a protester attacking a fire truck."

Fire Bureau Deputy Chief Gary Warrington on Monday had ordered his downtown fire engines to remove the flags to prevent provocations of local anti-war demonstrators.

"This policy will continue until we no longer have sustained close contact interaction with protesters and demonstrators," Warrington wrote in a memo to the city's three downtown fire companies, The Oregonian first reported. "We do not want extremists attacking our apparatus and our personnel."

But the bureau reversed the order Tuesday after a slew of complaints and efforts by a local firefighters union to push for a compromise.

Area firemen began flying the flag after the Sept. 11 attacks. The emblem was soon seen on rearview mirrors and other parts of the vehicles.

"The American flag means a lot to them because they're proud of their country," Chamberlain said. "But also, they tie that to 9/11 and what happened to the twin towers. It touches on a lot of emotion for my folks."

Some firefighters, sensitive to protocol, thought some displays of the flag were improper, reported the newspaper. Top Fire Bureau officials talked the issue over, researched proper flag-displaying etiquette and issued a policy allowing trucks to display and fly them.

But after an anti-war protest last week featuring several flag burnings, with fire crews present, Warrington decided on a new policy: take down the flags.

"My position is not, 'we should bow to these people, we should be worried about them, we should let them win,'" Warrington told The Oregonian. "I absolutely want to stand up and support the flag. All I was trying to do was keep our members from being put in harm's way."

Even anti-war protesters dismissed the decision to remove the flags.

"I have never heard anything so ridiculous in my life," Will Seaman, organizer of the Portland Peaceful Response Coalition, told "Emotions are very high ... but there's an overwhelming clear and dedicated commitment to nonviolent protest against this war."

Seaman said the movement was commited to non-violent protest. But several people have been arrested throughout the state recently, mostly for blocking bridges and roadways.

And on Tuesday, a vandal burned an American flag hanging from the porch of a former Gulf War veteran while the man was at church.

But Seaman insisted most protesters have a lot of respect for the flag, especially in light of the current war in Iraq.

"There are people who fall into what I would call the kind of classic category of American patriot -- they revere the American flag. They want to take back the American flag … that they think is being debased by the Bush administration in this war," Seaman said. "They are the last people that would burn the American flag."