Removal of Flags From Fla. Apparatus Spurs Protest

SEMINOLE, Fla. -- There are American flag patches on Seminole Fire Rescue uniforms. There are American flags flying outside Seminole's fire stations.

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There are not, however, American flags flying from Seminole Fire Rescue vehicles. There used to be, though. And that's the problem.

Seminole city management, its firefighters and a resident or residents with encyclopedic knowledge of the U.S. Flag Code have been battling for months about American flags.

A few months ago, some firefighters put some flags on some city Fire Rescue vehicles. Fire Rescue spokeswoman Alison Shanabrook didn't know Sunday exactly where on the vehicles the employees put the flags. She did know, however, where they didn't put them.

The flags' staffs were not "fixed firmly to the chassis or clamped to the right fender" like the Flag Code prescribes.

The resident complained about the improper display, Shanabrook said. So city administrators ordered the makeshift flags removed, and invited employees to come up with a plan that complied with Flag Code.

No one did, Shanabrook said.

A few weeks ago, an employee put a flag on a fire engine again. A resident complained again.

"While we do not believe the act of one of our employees to display a flag was meant to be disrespectful, the flag was removed," Shanabrook said in a statement.

But this time, someone wrote about it on Facebook, and someone else reposted it, and someone else saw it, and eventually a plan was hatched.

Some protesters gathered at noon Sunday on 113th Street, by a fire station. There were about 20 of them, none of them current firefighters, but all of them friends of firefighters. They waved flags for an hour.

"You just can't tell somebody you can't fly the flag," said David Dabney, 49, of Pinellas Park. Dabney grew up in Seminole and saw the Facebook post Saturday.

Records of the citizen complaints about the Flag Code violations were not available Sunday, Shanabrook said. If employees submit a plan that complies with the Flag Code, she said, the city will consider it.

"This is not us not wanting to display flags, it's more us wanting to ensure they're displayed respectfully," Shanabrook said.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the International Association of Fire Chiefs recommended that all fire departments nationwide permanently mount flags on all vehicles. The association apparently did not consult Flag Code, though, because it also urged fire departments to "be creative."

The code has been around in some form since the National Flag Conference in 1923. It has lots of rules, and there's a very good chance you or someone you know has broken one.

Ever fly a flag at night without illuminating it? Ever use the flag for "advertising purposes"? Ever wear any article of clothing incorporating the flag design?

Yep, you broke Flag Code.

In 2008, the Congressional Research Service issued a report on Flag Code, its history and how it has been interpreted.

"It is important to remember," the report said, "that the Flag Code is intended as a guide to be followed on a purely voluntary basis to insure proper respect for the flag."