Conn. Mayor to Allow Firefighters to Wear Pink T-Shirts

BRISTOL, Conn. -- The issue caught fire last week, when firefighters proposed selling pink T-shirts to benefit Susan G. Komen for the Cure during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

Photos: Firefighters Wear Pink for a Cause

City firefighters will be allowed to wear pink breast cancer awareness T-shirts to work, Mayor Art Ward said Thursday, reversing a ban he issued last week that became national news.

At a 9 a.m. press conference in City Hall, Ward said he decided to let city firefighters wear the T-shirts to work on Thursdays this month. In addition, he said all five city firehouses will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 28 so people can buy the T-shirts.

In his statement Thursday, Ward said "As I've listened to all the comments over the past few days, I thought that more could be done."

"The controversy was larger than the cause," he said, and was eclipsing the important issue of raising awareness of a disease that "has touched most of us in one way or another" and which killed his mother 25 years ago.

He said he supports the cause and emphasized that his original ban on the T-shirts reflected concerns that aiding an additional cause -- the city already supports the United Way, and firefighters already raise money for muscular dystrophy research -- would create "difficulties."

Ward's decision last week was reported nationwide by the New York Times and numerous television stations. Ward said he reflected "on public sentiment" before reversing his decision.

"I commend Mayor Ward," said Sean Lennon, president of Bristol Firefighters Local 773. Lennon, who stood next to Ward at the press conference, said the mayor contacted him late Wednesday night to discuss a resolution to the issue. The union had accused Ward of retaliation driven by his long-standing feud with its leadership, while the mayor blamed the union for making the T-shirts a political issue.

Ward and Lennon shook hands after Thursday's press conference.

Publicity about the ban prompted "more than 500 people from all over the country" to contact the Bristol fire union seeking to buy the $20 T-shirts, which benefit the Susan B. Komen Fund For the Cure.

Firefighters last month proposed selling the T-shirts during October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Lennon said they've sold 500 to ESPN, and that virtually all of the roughly 90 union firefighters had also ordered shirts.

As part of his turnaround Thursday, Ward raised the stakes: "Furthermore, I am issuing a challenge to the firefighters to join me in expanding the original fundraising efforts to include all residents of the city of Bristol. I am opening all five stations on Sunday, Oct. 28, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., so that the public can buy pink T-shirts in support of the efforts toward breast cancer awareness.

"I will be the first in line to buy a T-shirt and encourage all residents to join me in supporting this important cause," said Ward. "My hope is that this controversy ends with a positive result and I look forward to lending my wholehearted support toward this effort."

Firefighters in dozens of communities are wearing pink this month, including Stratford, Middletown, Ridgefield, Greenwich and Wilton. In most of the arrangements, firefighters buy the shirts at $20 each, with proceeds benefiting cancer research. In many communities, firefighters also sell shirts to the public -- often from firehouses -- to raise more.

The T-shirt campaign is endorsed by the International Association of Fire Fighters, which also happens to be the national union that voted this summer to censure Ward over his use of pension fund money to pay for retiree health care.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service