PROVIDENCE, RI A Providence firefighter is the focus of an internal investigation into a gesture he made during a flag-burning protest in front of the Providence Public Safety Complex, Target 12 has learned.
Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said the video shows the on-duty firefighter raising his fist in apparent approval of the flag-burning which attracted a large crowd. The incident happened last Tuesday night, following a Missouri grand jury decision not to indict a police officer who had shot a teenager. The Providence protest included about 150 people who after circling the burning flag, moved on to Interstate 95, where they brought the southbound lanes to a halt.
“We were disappointed in that (firefighter’s) behavior,” Pare said. “The gesture incited the crowd in a way that could’ve been dangerous to the officers who were trying to manage and keep the protestors safe.”
Video recorded by RI Future’s Steve Ahlquist shows the group gathered around an American flag, chanting “burn it” over and over. About two and a half minutes into to the four-minute video, while the flag burned on the fire station drive way, a voice is heard referencing the firefighter.
“Look at the guy behind you,” the man said.
The camera tilts up to a window above the garages, where the firefighter is in silhouette, raising his fist. The crowd cheers for about 20 seconds, with one protestor yelling, “He’s alone in a room.”
Pare said in addition to potentially impacting the safety of the police officers who were on the street trying to control the crowd, the gesture was possibly a policy violation since the on-duty firefighter does not appear to be neutral in what amounted to a political protest.
Providence firefighters’ union president Paul Doughty would not comment about any details surrounding the incident.
“All I can say is it’s under investigation,” he said.
Neither Doughty nor Pare would release the firefighter’s name. Pare said there are no plans to suspend him during the investigation. He would not comment on what type of discipline the firefighter might face when the investigation is concluded. No one was injured during the flag burning.
The crowd had first gathered at Central High School to protest the decision in Missouri not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for shooting teenager Michael Brown. The Providence protest was one of several around the country.