A Chester City firefighter was suspended without pay yesterday for refusing to remove an American flag sticker from his locker.
James Krapf, an 11-year veteran of the department, could face more days of suspension if he does not remove the sticker, Fire Commissioner James Johnson said.
Johnson directed the force's 61 members to remove all decorations from the outside of their lockers over the summer after a firefighter posted a cartoon that others found offensive. The drawing, which firefighters said was posted by a black colleague, showed two black men and included a racial slur.
Firefighters can post personal items inside the lockers, but the outside must remain "free of alteration," according to the directive.
Some firefighters didn't think the American flag was included in the ban. The flag is stitched on their uniforms, hangs on their trucks, and flies on a pole out front.
"The directive says 'everything,' " said Capt. John Barbato, vice president of the department's union. "I never would've thought the American flag would be included in that."
Yesterday, almost seven weeks after the order went into effect, 11 firefighters were notified that they were still in violation.
Krapf removed a union sticker and a picture of a truck, but refused to scrape off the flag, a one-inch-square sticker that has adorned his locker for a couple of years, he said.
"Anybody who finds the American flag offensive shouldn't be working there," Krapf said yesterday.
"I said, 'No disrespect, Chief, but I'm not scraping that sticker off my locker.' He said, 'OK. Go home.' "
Banning all materials from locker doors was the simplest way to avoid bickering among the staff, Johnson said.
"How do we know what offends who?" he said. "I have to play Solomon here."
Johnson said Krapf would face a two-day suspension if he did not remove the sticker today. Next would come a three-day suspension, and then the matter would go before the mayor and council and could go to arbitration, officials said.
Walter Miles Jr., the city councilman who oversees public safety, said he did not know all the specifics of the incident. "I strongly back my fire commissioner," he said. "A directive is a directive."
The Chester City Fire Department has worked without a contract since 2007. Johnson said the handful of firefighters making a fuss over the stickers were trying to gain sympathy from the public during contract negotiations, an allegation Krapf denied.
Krapf, 31, said he hoped to speak with the union and the commissioner today and reach a compromise. He doesn't want to miss more pay, and he's worried that this will be a negative mark on his record.
"I certainly can't afford to lose a day's pay, but it's something I believe in," he said.