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Seminole fire chiefs reprimanded after improper flag display

Seminole Station 30 fire medics Robert Rutledge, left, and Patton Hall install an American flag on the front fender of Engine 30. Three chiefs were punished after a flag was found to be improperly displayed.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times

Seminole Station 30 fire medics Robert Rutledge, left, and Patton Hall install an American flag on the front fender of Engine 30. Three chiefs were punished after a flag was found to be improperly displayed.

SEMINOLE — Three district chiefs have received written reprimands for allowing an American flag to be improperly displayed on a fire truck.

Disciplined were Rick Koda, Richard Schomp and Greg Smith.

Koda, 49, has worked for Seminole since November 1987. He earns about $78,000 a year. Schomp, 46, began working for the fire department in July 1987. He earns about $79,000 a year. Smith, 58, has been employed by Seminole fire since October 1985 and earns about $86,500 a year.

Seminole has an established policy over display of the flag, fire Chief George Bessler said.

"The district chiefs did not uphold the policy that was given to them," he said.

Koda, Schomp and Smith could not be reached for comment.

Their punishment is the first fallout of an incident that resulted in Seminole officials facing national scorn and being labeled un-American cowards and worse when media outlets picked up a claim on Facebook that they had ordered the removal of an American flag from its fire trucks.

That was untrue, Seminole officials say.

The real story, they said, began when one or more firefighters hung a flag in the window of a fire truck. A resident complained that the flag was displayed improperly and city officials ordered it removed until a way could be found to fly the flag in accordance with the flag code.

They also pointed out that each truck already carried flag decals and a flag patch is on firefighter uniforms, so the city is hardly opposed to the flag.

But that's not the way it came across, and Seminole's officials took a beating for a few days. They blamed the Facebook posting for causing the brouhaha. Now, they're investigating to see if the city's social media policy was violated.

The policy is about a year old, but just a few weeks before the flag incident, Bessler sent an email to his employees concerning a Miami-Dade firefighter who was demoted over comments he made on Facebook. Bessler took the opportunity to remind firefighters about Seminole's policy.

"While I am not aware of any inappropriate comments from our personnel, the reason for this email is a simple proactive reminder of our moral, ethical and regulatory obligations to post responsible social media comments," Bessler wrote.

"It is everyone's responsibility to make sure our community continues to have trust and respect in all of us; to ensure our profession is not unnecessarily disparaged due to inappropriate comments, and finally, to ensure no one is needlessly disciplined."

Anne Lindberg can be reached at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

Seminole fire chiefs reprimanded after improper flag display 08/11/12 [Last modified: Saturday, August 11, 2012 4:31am]
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