Mass. firefighters comply with chiefs' order to remove blue line flags after debate

A citizen complaint about the flags prompted Hingham's police and fire chiefs to ask for the flags' removal


By Audrey Cooney
The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.

HINGHAM, Mass. — Hingham firefighters have complied with an order to remove "thin blue line" flags from the town's fire trucks following a week of tense debate.

The Hingham Firefighters Local 2398 union said in a statement that firefighters and police from Weymouth, along with other first responders, gathered at the fire station on Main Street to help remove the flags Thursday morning. Initially intended to honor fallen first responders, the flags were flown from Hngham fire trucks for several weeks to mark the two-year anniversary of the killing of Sgt. Michael Chesna in Weymouth.

A Hingham fire truck flying the “thin blue line
A Hingham fire truck flying the “thin blue line" flag passes police supporters on Central Street. (Greg Derr/The Patriot Ledger)

"We did not want to risk having these flags removed from the trucks in a disrespectful manner," the statement read. "We will continue our unwavering support for our brothers and sisters in law enforcement and first responders everywhere."

Last week, a Hingham resident emailed the board of selectmen asking for the thin blue line flags to be removed. Fire Chief Steve Murphy and Police Chief Glenn Olsson told personnel they'd need to remove the flags, which are black-and-white versions of the American flag with a single blue line in the center, because they're against a town policy that forbids political messaging on town property.

The flags were originally purchased to show support for the police department, but have recently "taken a different political meaning," the chiefs said. The Black Lives Matter movement has again picked up steam following the police killings of several Black Americans in other parts of the country, and opposition groups like Blue Lives Matter have started to use the thin blue line flag in protest. In his letter to the town, the resident pointed out that selectmen recently refused a request to fly LGBTQ Pride flags at town buildings, and said the black-and-white flags have become a symbol of white supremacy.

The town administrator, fire chief and police chief all agreed the flags should be removed. Their order was met with resistance from the rank and file of the fire department, who said in a union statement on Monday they would not remove the flags themselves. The issue ignited a town-wide debate that culminated in a rally outside of town hall that drew more than 100 protestors and a lengthy discussion at Tuesday's selectmen meeting.

Firefighters ultimately removed the flags Thursday morning and donated them to the Weymouth Police Department.

"The members of Local 2398 are profoundly appreciative of the amount of support we received," the union said.

Selectmen and other town officials have been adamant that they fully support police officers, but want to ensure the town abides by its precedent regarding flying flags. While the town does not have a formal policy regarding flags, the U.S. and Massachusetts flag, the flag of Hingham, flags honoring vets and PIO/MIA and the flag marking Peace Officers Memorial Day are typically the only flags to fly on municipal property.

"The Board of Selectmen has consistently supported our public safety departments. We have a proud history of recognizing and valuing the contributions made by the men and women who serve the Town with distinction and honor," they said in a statement.

NEXT: 3 things to consider before you raise a Blue Line flag

©2020 The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.

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