SEMINOLE — This city has stickers depicting the American flag on both sides of its fire trucks. Firefighters have flag emblems sewn onto their uniforms. And now each Seminole fire truck also has an American flag.
The flag is firmly attached to the right front bumper as outlined in the federal code that establishes rules for the banner's proper display.
While officials are pleased to have flags on the trucks, they were appalled to find themselves labeled as cowards, communists and worse by angry people from across the United States who wrongly thought Seminole had refused to allow firefighters to fly the flag on trucks because of a resident's complaint. The truth, city officials said, is that they were trying to make sure the flag was properly displayed. The resident had complained about the way the flag was displayed on the truck, not about the presence of the flag itself.
That was lost in the barrage of emails from across the country, many from former Marines, that condemned Seminole and its officials:
•"Your town should be ashamed of themselves. You're a disgrace to your nation. May God have mercy on your soul."
•"Your actions in removing them are some of the most cowardly and revolting I've had the misfortune to witness. Caving into complaints is the most anti-American you can be."
•"You may consider that your decision has made your city quite distasteful to the rest of America."
•"Shame on the city of Seminole, taking the American flag off the fire trucks? What are you people ... communists? or just stupid bleepity bleepity bleepity bleeps?"
•"I don't know what kind of B.S. operation you twits are running down there but you should be ashamed of yourselves."
•"This country is going to hell in a hand basket and it's things like this that make me ashamed to be an American. ... I think the flags need to be put back on — bigger ones for that fact and fly them proud. People need to research facts before they start pointing fingers and complaining."
•"Disgraceful, Disgraceful, Disgraceful, Disgraceful, Disgraceful, Disgraceful, Disgraceful, Disgraceful, Disgraceful, Disgraceful, Disgraceful, Disgraceful, Disgraceful, Disgraceful, Disgraceful, Disgraceful, Disgraceful, Disgraceful, Disgraceful, Disgraceful, Disgraceful, and tasteless."
In short, a city that prides itself on generally being scandal free had become a national pariah.
City Manager Frank Edmunds and fire Chief George Bessler responded to each email. Council member Leslie Waters also answered a few.
Edmunds generally referred writers to a Tampa Bay Times story that, he said, gave an accurate and fair report of the facts.
Waters tried to explain the city's side, but she also showed her outrage at the attacks.
"Thank you for your lovely input," she responded to one email. "I do not appreciate in the very least being called a communist, and before you throw labels like that one around, I would appreciate the courtesy of a conversation."
Bessler also defended the city, its officials and himself. In return, some emailers apologized for jumping to conclusions:
"If I was mislead by misinformation, then I'm man enough to apologize. … I'm eating my words, taking it back, only because I misunderstood."
The few apologies were gratifying, but Bessler told one emailer that he found the uproar was a bit odd: "Respectfully, I find it very ironic that I am being crucified for upholding the U.S. Code."
Anne Lindberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450.