Paoli Fire Co.Tries to Put Out a PR Wildfire

A one-finger gesture seen 'round the world puts the Paoli Fire Company in the middle of a public relations firestorm.

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.

Click Here to See the Video on STATter911.com

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.

Also on TE Patch:

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)"

You can read the PhillyFireNews.Com Facebook page comments here.

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:

"Dear Citizen,  

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.

Michele Ippoliti July 07, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Not a big deal.....people make mistakes. Move on
Louis of Pennsylvania July 07, 2012 at 01:52 PM
The suggestion of "Collective guilt" of the fire company and its leaders is repugnant and should join the charge of "Collective guilt" of Americans for slavery on the ashheap of ditzy ideas. Individuals are responsible for their actions - shouldn't be a difficult concept to grasp, That volunteer behaved like a low life and should be called to account. End of story.
Denise Anne Duffy July 07, 2012 at 02:02 PM
It's a great opportunity to teach our kids in this day and age of electronics a momentary lapse in judgment can cost you forever. The e in email is for evidence. Be careful, once posted it can never be truly erased. EVERYONE deserves forgiveness.
ed auble July 07, 2012 at 02:16 PM
The Paoli Fire Company is led by quality people in President Beatty and Chief Dutter who was awarded the Paoli Business & Professional Association "Citizen of the Year" award in April. The irresponsible action of one member in no way reflects the professionalism of this outstanding organization...Ed Auble
Chris Smith July 07, 2012 at 03:27 PM
I'm not surprised by what happened. My neighbor's son used to volunteer for the Paoli Fire Department. He also liked to trap squirrels in his backyard, shoot them in the face with a BB gun while still caged and dump the bodies in our backyard. I'm certain there are a lot of very good people that work and volunteer for the Paoli Fire Department, but I'd suggest they do a better job interviewing and checking references on their volunteers in order to avoid future embarrassment.
Chucktowner July 07, 2012 at 04:01 PM
A meatheaded kid made a mistake, then lied to the Chief, then eventually confessed, but not before causing embarrassment to the whole crew. Many lessons learned. Time to move on.
Chris Smith July 07, 2012 at 04:13 PM
I hope the lesson has been learned, but the real message I'm getting from many of the comments is that folks would rather just sweep it under the rug. A lot of dust there but usually not many lessons to be found. If this were somebody who worked for the President of the United States I'm certain you'd be humming a different tune when it comes to accountability. Just replace "meatheaded kid" and "Chief" with any Cabinet member or campaign spokesperson and the President, respectively, and your last two sentences would likely be very different.
Mister Y July 07, 2012 at 04:22 PM
The kid made the error, and then the "quality people" Mr. Beatty and Chief Dutter tried to cover it up. I dont know which was worse- the kid's infraction or the baloney initial press release. "he was moving his hand." C'mon.....Dont insult my intelligence. The kid should be sent packing under a permanent expulsion, and whichever "quality person" made the decision to issue that initial B S press release should receive some sort of disciplinary action as well.
Chucktowner July 07, 2012 at 04:23 PM
We're talking about a rude gesture - not national security. The chain of command is dealing with it. No need to crucify the kid or the department.
TGerhart July 07, 2012 at 06:34 PM
The Paoli Fire Company did not order or tell the person in question to perform the show of disrespect to the crowd or the live television broadcast. The only thing that the company is guilt of is putting a statement, before it had all the facts. That being said let the compnay deal with it's own problem, and let all move forward. The gesture is no worse than having a professional base player say the F word over and over on live TV. Time this country stops being so PC and grows up again.
Mark July 07, 2012 at 08:12 PM
The administrators are doing what is right by the immediate actions they have already taken. It is ashame one individual can make the entire FD of Paoli and everywhere else look bad. To the members of Paoli FD. Keep your heads held high. This will pass.
guest12 July 07, 2012 at 08:31 PM
The volunteer can flip me the bird as long as he puts out a fire in my house. We need to get off this political correctness. Reverend Wright off limits. Bill Ayers off limits Occupy off limits but a feeding frenzy on a young volunteer I am a Democrat liberal but this frenzy is ridiculous
guest12 July 07, 2012 at 09:09 PM
Giving the news media the finger - Give him an award I just reread the article. This news media thinks he was disrepecting them. No wonder the story spread wild. Earth to news media. Very few have respect for you or your papers
Anthony Wayne July 08, 2012 at 12:15 AM
In high school, when you did that for the class picture, they would photoshop a dunce cap on your head and publish it. You were not crucified in the local paper for it.
James R Russled July 08, 2012 at 04:46 AM
Paoli Fire Company lied in a press release and tried to cover something up? I don't believe it. We are talking about the same fire company who still won't admit that they blew one of their own members off a roof at a fire injuring him. They still say that "he tripped over a hose." The leadership of this fire company is a joke and I am in no way surprised that one of their members did this and that they tried to cover it up with a BS press release.
LocalGirl July 08, 2012 at 06:44 PM
I'm just glad that the guy who "tripped over the hose" (OK, who was actually blown off the roof by other firefighters) is able to walk again. God bless him and his family!
Ronald C. Herwig July 08, 2012 at 07:39 PM
Everyone makes mistakes. Hopefully the leadership of Paoli Fire Co. will handle the matter quickly and in house. we need to worry about getting America back on it's feet and moving again, not this silly stuff. Good luck to Paoli Fire Co.
John Sacharok July 09, 2012 at 01:34 PM
This behavior is not acceptable and is very disappointing. I trust in the judgment of the leaders of the department and will support their decisions regarding this unfortunate event. Only they will have the full set of facts available to make an informed decision regarding the firefighter. At the very least this should serve as a teachable moment for all concerned.
SJeffries July 09, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Get rid of the firefighter. It will send a message. Move on.
Joe Blow July 10, 2012 at 02:38 PM
The explanation that he didn't do it on purpose is pretty weak at best. I'm not buying it, and I'm sure very few people are. But to talk about how horrible it is, and how the man should be removed from the fire department, etc is a bit overboard. Reprimand the man and move on. It's only a middle finger. Inappropriate, sure...but let's just keep perspective here, folks.
Geoeray July 10, 2012 at 03:38 PM
The young man should have learned a lesson from this. It would be up to the Chief to determine that. If he has learned a lesson let him remain with the department. Mistake and a life lesson. I'd be gald to see him if I had a fire or an emergency he responded to. On any given day drive up and down Rt. 30 and you will have a good chance of seeing the same gesture by our good citizens.
hometownkid July 11, 2012 at 08:04 PM
For all of those who believe the solution is as easy as to get rid of the firefighter in question i would enjoy seeing you give as much time as many of the volunteer firefighters in your community. This was no doubt a stupid move on the part of the firefighter but i don't think it gives you the right to crusify the kid for what he's done. Make sure he learns his lesson and move on. If it was a firefighter from your township protecting your house and your family i bet it would be different.
bonnie330 July 12, 2012 at 09:26 PM
He is a kid. Young people do stupid stuff, and that is how they learn. Forgive him - and then thank him for his time spent volunteering to help us all.


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