It was neither a malevolent plot of one who hates the IRS nor some communist conspiracy.
Standing beneath an American flag affixed to a blazing red engine Friday afternoon, City Manager Weldon Rucker, Fire Chief Reg Garcia and Berkeley Firefighters Association President Rick Guzman, issued a public apology for the confusion over the removal of the stars and stripes from the city’s fire trucks.
The reason top brass in the department called for the couple-of-hour removal of the flags from the vehicles Thursday was for the firefighters’ own safety, they said, explaining that critical information hadn’t been passed on to the rank and file who had mounted the flags in memory of comrades lost in the aftermath of the World Trade Center.
Firefighters called the press anonymously when the flags were removed. The incident was blown out of proportion, speakers said.
City Manager Rucker was anxious for the Bay Area press, assembled in front of Fire House No. 2 on Berkeley Way, to understand that the removal was not a political statement: “We believe we were one of the first to lower our flags” after the tragedy on Sept. 11, he said.
“The Berkeley Fire Department has been proudly flying the American flag on all our vehicles since the tragedy,” Garcia added. “We have a profound sense of loss and grief for all of those killed in the tragedy.”
Top brass hadn’t told firefighters clearly that the stars and stripes were to be removed only during the duration of a demonstration at UC Berkeley on Thursday, for fear that the protesters would try to destroy the Union Jack.
There was a flag burned during a demonstration the previous week, Guzman said, explaining that the flag burned belonged to the protester. In previous years, however, “we have had rocks and bottles thrown at the engines,” Guzman said. The conclusion was that the flags might become an attractive target for angry demonstrators.
“We try to avoid confrontations,” Guzman said.
“It was never our intent to infringe on anyone’s First Amendment rights,” Garcia said.
“It was blown way out of proportion,” Guzman said emphatically.