(CBS) -- Four Maywood firefighters have been relieved of duty for the day, and more could be disciplined Wednesday, for refusing to remove American flag decals from their helmets and lockers.
The four refused to comply with an order issued last week by Chief Craig Bronaugh to remove all stickers from their helmets and lockers. The four drew the line when it came to the flag decals.
A representative from Service Employees International Union Local 73, which represents the firefighters, met for an hour with Chief Bronaugh Tuesday afternoon, with the union hoping Chief Bronaugh would modify his order. Instead, he ordered the firefighters sent home immediately, pending disciplinary action.
Union spokesman Adam Rosen said he is "shocked" that an agency of first responders would enforce such an order the week of Sept. 11.
The four firefighters said they were told that the order was issued because of racial discord on the department. The four, who include two white firefighters, a black firefighter, and a fourth firefighter who is a Cuban émigré, said no such problems exist.
Instead, they trace it back to a decision by several firefighters to replace a tattered American flag last month in one of Maywood's firehouses. The new flag mysteriously disappeared early Aug. 23. The order on decals was issued last week.
Maywood has had no such order in the recent past. One of the four firefighters, Dave Flowers Jr., inherited his locked from his father when his father retired from the Maywood Fire Department and has stickers dating back several decades that Rosen calls "irreplaceable." One is a U.S. Marine Corps insignia issued to Vietnam veterans.
The Maywood fire chief told CBS 2 the order rose out of a need to banish inappropriate messages and gave an example of a photo that could be seen as racist.
A former Maywood firefighter who says that wasn't the goal when he posted it 10 years ago.
"I cut out a picture of a smoking monkey and hung it on a guy's locker that I was trying to jam up because of his smoking habit, nothing more" said former Maywood firefighter Michael Hess.
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