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Some firefighters at a west suburban fire department have been relieved of their duties, for refusing to remove patriotic flags from their lockers and helmets.

Maywood Fire Chief Craig Bronaugh says there’s a culture of racism in the department and issued memo saying all decals and stickers, including American flags and military stickers, be removed from lockers and helmets.  He shows a picture of a monkey smoking a cigarette that was taped on a locker, to prove it.

“As a fire chief here, I cannot afford nor tolerate,” he said.

But these firefighters, an African American, a Cuban and two white men, say the chief’s allegation of racism couldn’t be further from the truth.  That the picture is about ten years old and isn’t even up anymore. That it was all a joke between two firefighters.  And that the firefighter in question is now a lieutenant and doesn’t have a locker like that.

Those tell WGN the tension started with the chief ordering an American flag be removed from the inside of Fire Station 2. It was a new flag the firefighters had bought with their own money to replace the tattered one that had been there for three years.

When they weren’t told why, firefighters put American flags on their lockers.

Then came the memo.

When David Flowers Jr., the union president, wouldn’t take down the Marine decal on his locker, the same locker that was his father’s, a Maywood firefighter and Vietnam vet, he was relieved of duty and sent home.

“If someone has a problem with a Marine Corps decal,   you take this to heart.  Flag is attached to our uniform,” Flowers Jr said.

The chief says he has nothing against the American flag or veterans.  He just wanted to make a blanket rule that covers everything.

But these firefighters say the American flag is special and off limits.

They have a meeting with Chief Bronaugh at 1pm tomorrow.