A Florida fire chief has issued a suspension and is starting diversity training after one of his men painted a confederate flag on a county-owned fire ax.
According to WFTV, the son of Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Holton said he emblazoned an ax with the rebel flag as a sign of his small town roots and core family values. He claims he had no ulterior motives and denies being racist.
Nevertheless, Orange County Fire Chief Otto Drozd has taken swift action.
Holten has been issued a 12-hour unpaid suspension and the department will now undergo yearly diversity training, WFTV reported. Furthermore, Drozd told the local news outlet he will consider diversity backgrounds when giving promotions.
The disciplinary measures come after an Orange County’s Professional Standards Investigation report was triggered by a complaint over the ax.
The report called it “startling” that other firefighters in the department, including supervisors, denied ever seeing the rebel flag on the ax.
“Either they knew and didn’t say anything, or they should have known,” Drozd told WFTV, contending the incident has revealed a culture of entitlement at the department.
Drozd said he will combat the problem by also breaking up the department through the transfer of half the staff.
Report of the actions, however, has ignited a heated debate on WFTV’s Facebook page.
“He shouldn’t have been punished,” user Jan Youngken wrote.
“Let him be,” Kerry Sales echoed in a comment. “It’s freedom of expression.”
“Unprofessional and definitely needs to get fired,” Juan Manuel countered. “It would be freedom of speech if he wasn’t working.”
“He is a public servant. You forget. He serves ALL of the people,” Christina Jenkins argued. “This flag represents a lot more than just the South. It’s the flag always used by KKK and other white supremacy groups therefore it does symbolize hate. It may have a different history but in today’s society it represents racism and a public servant should know better.”
Follow Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) on Twitter