Use of city fire trucks at rally troubling

A firefighter sets up a flag before a rally Sunday at the Capitol to show support for law enforcement.
A firefighter sets up a flag before a rally Sunday at the Capitol to show support for law enforcement. Courtesy of Keith Breedlove

On the street in front of the pro-police rally at the state Capitol on Sunday, two fire trucks parked facing each other, their aerial ladders extended with a large U.S. flag suspended between them. The sight of Old Glory flapping gently in the gray sky provided a powerful backdrop for the event sponsored by the Sacramento-based nonprofit Patriot Defenders Network Inc. and set a reflective and somber mood.

The event was conceived as a sort of pep rally in the face of so much anti-police sentiment in recent months. It was a time and space for supporters of law enforcement to express their thanks for the people who put their lives on the line as part of their jobs.

A small group of a particularly mean-spirited protesters tried to crash the party. That clash made the news, appropriately so, as it is part of a nationwide dialogue about lethal use of force on civilians after two high-profile cases in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City last year.

But that’s another issue, and another editorial. Let’s get back to those picturesque fire trucks.

Just what were city trucks and city workers doing participating in a non-city-related demonstration? That’s the question we raised with city officials Monday. They acknowledged that there’s some reason for concern.

The trucks belong to the Sacramento Fire Department. The flag was provided by the union that represents firefighters, California Professional Firefighters. Two on-duty, four-person firefighter crews set up the flag, according to Sacramento Fire Chief Walt White. One of those crews stayed throughout the rally. The other crew left to work another truck.

Photos posted on Facebook, such as those taken by The Diner Truck’s chef Keith Breedlove, whose food truck served attendees, show firefighters setting up the flag from far atop the outstretched ladder.

This raises even more questions: What if one of the firefighters had – God forbid – fallen or been injured while setting up that flag? What if one of those trucks were needed in the event of a structure fire with people trapped?

And should city workers be allowed to participate in rallies for particular causes while on duty? And if so, which causes?

We encourage the mayor and City Council to ask these questions even more pointedly.

Chief White, who authorized the use of the trucks and crews for the rally after a request, appears to have pure motives for the decision.

“I saw it as a way to show support for our public safety partners,” White told a representative of The Bee’s editorial board Monday, noting that fire trucks have been used for community events before, such as in the Veterans Day parade. He said he determined that the equipment and the crew could be spared for the time period, and that does seem to be the case.

White said the city doesn’t have a specific policy addressing how and when the Fire Department can use its resources for community events, though he conceded there probably should be. We agree.