The Brookhaven hamlet fire department.

The Brookhaven hamlet fire department. Credit: Carl Corry

One day after Brookhaven Fire Department officials apologized amid the uproar caused by a viral social media post showing a Confederate flag draped on the side of a department fire truck, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone issued a statement saying he was "deeply disturbed and angered" to learn of the incident.

The social media post, a photograph of that ladder truck decorated with a Confederate flag, went viral on Sunday and led Chief of Department Peter Di Pinto Jr. to apologize to the community, EMS workers and firefighters for the flag — once the symbol of the slaveholding Confederate States of America during the Civil War — that was draped on the side of the fire truck. 

“This afternoon the chiefs and commissioners of the Brookhaven Fire Department and the Brookhaven Fire District were made aware of an incident involving one of our vehicles," Di Pinto Jr. said in a letter posted on Facebook. “The unauthorized action was done without the knowledge of the leadership team and is condemned in the strongest terms. 

“The strength of our community has always been its diversity and our department has always sought to be inclusive,” Di Pinto added. “We can assure our community that ‘Racism has no place in our Firehouse.’ ”

On Monday Bellone posted a statement on his Facebook page saying "I was deeply disturbed and angered to learn that someone would prominently display a Confederate flag on a fire truck, a symbol of division and hate that is not reflective of who we are nor who we aspire to become. I want to thank the Brookhaven Fire Department for their quick response to this matter so that it is handled swiftly and accordingly. While one incident or individual is not reflective of an entire Fire Department, it is a reminder that we still have more work to do to eradicate hate and bigotry on Long Island. Now is the time to come together. Let us redouble our efforts to be better to one another and care for one another especially during these difficult times. We are one Suffolk, one Long Island, and together we will stand against bias and prejudice."

There were about 50 fire departments in the area for a local firefighters competition, Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri said. The firetruck with the flag was participating with trucks from the other departments in a drive-by parade for a long time Patchogue firefighter who is struggling with cancer. 

Pontieri condemned the act, saying, "One or two stupid people can create angst and anger for a whole community."

"It lights a fire where a fire doesn't need to be lit," he added.

Di Pinto said a sole firefighter was responsible for draping the offensive flag on the fire truck and that a disciplinary process had already commenced. He declined to release further details because the incident was still under investigation and a personnel matter. 

Monique Fitzgerald of Bellport, who posted the photo of the fire truck on Facebook, said she was forwarded the photo by a friend.

“When I first saw it, it was a hurtful thing to see, people still flying those flags,” Fitzgerald said.

She said she was upset because the Holbrook department also had Confederate flags and images in its firehouse a few years ago, when a firefighter was suspended for making ugly remarks after two young Black men were killed while riding a stolen dirt bike.

“The Confederate flag is a hate symbol," she said. "I had the same kind of reaction of a Jewish person who saw somebody hang a Nazi flag.”

Fitzgerald said it was angering to see a Confederate flag on a fire truck, a piece of equipment that belongs to a department intended to protect everybody. 

“It is irresponsible of the person who did it. The apology needs to come from that person.” 

She said the department’s apology was vague and not sincere. “I understand the fire department is trying to separate itself from the person who did this but I don’t know if there is something they could say that would make it OK.”

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