The Paoli Fire Company is grappling with a PR firestorm after a volunteer firefighter made an obscene gesture during a live TV broadcast on the Fourth of July.
When and Where it Happened
The volunteer firefighter, riding in a rear-facing seat in the back of a Paoli Fire engine cab, flipped the TV camera - and the world- the bird in a live broadcast originally aired on Philadelphia's WPVI-TV/6ABC and then rebroadcast around the globe on CNN. The video now also lives in infamy and (most likely) perpetuity on the internet.
The gesture and the way the fire company first responded touched off a flurry of bad publicity and angry comments on websites across the internet.
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At first the Paoli Fire Company said viewers did not actually see what they thought they saw.
At one point on Thursday, July 5 the fire company's website featured an apology denying the volunteer firefighter had actually made the obscene gesture. The first posting, which was a press release issued in the form of a letter to the news director of Disney-owned 6ABC (the station that aired the parade live), was captured and retained by the firefighting news website Statter911.com. It reads:
"Dear Sir or Madam:
Paoli Fire Company enjoyed the opportunity to particpate in the Wawa Welcome America Parade on Wednesday, July 4, 2012. In an unfortunate incident, one of our members was videotaped appearing to make an indecent and disrespectful gesture to the camera.
The firefighter did not not intentionally make the gesture. He was moving his hand, unaware that he was being filmed and unaware that the way he was moving his hand looked like "flipping the bird."
On behalf of the entire Paoli Fire Company, please accept my apologies for any appearance of disrespect."
Fierce and Fast Reaction From Firefighters and Civilians
That explanation didn't wash with a lot of people in and outside of the nation's close-knit firefighting community. Instead it served to fan the flames of outrage.
Facebook lit up with comments almost as soon as the parade aired. Some of the strongest reactions were on the PhillyFireNews.Com Facebook website, populare among volunteer and paid firefighters. Adam Watson was first to chime in saying: "This is a disgrace to the uniform and all who have, and continue to wear it." A few on the same comment thread were more willing to give the firefighter the benefit of the doubt. One comment by John Stier appeared willing to give the firefighter a free pass, saying "It looks photoshopped (sic)"
Paoli Fire Company Admits it was no accident
By Friday afternoon it became clear that the gesture was no accident and was made intentionally when the Paoli Fire Company President and Chief posted a joint statement on the Paoli Fire Company website that reads:
On July 4th, 2012 Paoli Fire Company proudly participated in the 2012 Wawa Welcome America Independence Day Parade in Philadelphia, PA. Afterwards, the fire company was made aware that a member of the company made an obscene hand gesture while riding in the rear of the engine. Not only was this gesture apparent to spectators, but was also captured on the live television broadcast.
First and foremost, the Paoli Fire Company would like to express a profound and sincere apology to the parade organizers, event sponsors, 6abc and the City of Philadelphia for this inappropriate and disrespectful act. Moreover, Paoli Fire Company apologizes to all of the citizens who witnessed the gesture; both live and on the televised broadcast.
Paoli Fire Company does not condone such behavior, nor does it believe that these actions should be tolerated. We expect the highest level of professionalism and respect from all of our members in all situations, especially when interacting with the public. As such, the member in question has been indefinitely suspended pending further disciplinary review, and we are currently reviewing our internal policies related to conduct and training.
The fire company, comprised almost exclusively of volunteers from Chester County, prides itself on providing highly skilled fire, rescue and emergency medical services to the community of Paoli and its surrounding areas. We recognize the importance of a strong and supportive relationship with the citizens that we serve and other first responder organizations that work with us. This trust is not easily earned, but we will do all that is necessary to demonstrate the momentary lapse in judgment by an individual member does not reflect the principles and operating standards of the organization.
John Beatty Ira Dutter President Chief"
Should the Paoli Fire Company and its leaders as a whole be held responsible for this or just the firefighter? Does it change the way you think about or support the Paoli Fire Company?
Tell us in the comments section at the bottom of this article.