Maywood firefighters claim they were punished for refusing to remove American flag decals

MAYWOOD, Ill. (WLS) -- Some suburban firefighters claim they are being punished for displaying the U.S. flag on their helmets and lockers.

Firefighters in the village of Maywood say they were sent home for refusing to take American flag decals off their equipment. The firefighters were relieved of their duties because of a dispute with the fire chief who issued a memo last week ordering all stickers and decals to be taken off lockers and helmets.

"I think people find that to be disrespectful," said David Flowers, Jr., a Maywood firefighter.

They refused to remove stickers important to them from their lockers: decals of the American flag.

"A lot of us take pride in the fire house because that's where we live, we spend a third of our life there and we want it to look good," said Daniel McDowell, a Maywood firefighter.

And they say they want to display their patriotism. But the fire chief says among the decals in the fire house was this picture of a monkey smoking a cigarette, which had generated complaints as being racist.

The chief said Tuesday night that to maintain order and uniformity, he decided all decals were to be removed.

"It had everything to do with me teasing another firefighter over his habit, and nothing else," said Michael Hess, a former Maywood firefighter.

Michael Hess is a former Maywood firefighter who put up the smoking monkey picture 10 years ago to tease a colleague who was a chain smoker - a colleague who was white. He says he doesn't know why it's become an issue now, and hopes it can be resolved. So do these firefighters.

"We're all for following the rules. We're not trying to be disrespectful or ... throw rules out the window," said Flowers.

The chief says if the firefighters continue to defy his order, he will take disciplinary action against them. He has a meeting with them at 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

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