MIDDLETOWN, Conn. — On Friday afternoon, someone stole a flag, designed to honor fallen firefighters, from a Middletown fire engine.
By Saturday night, thousands of people across the state and across the country knew about the theft, thanks to a deftly written and slightly sarcastic Facebook post by the firefighters' union.
The post, from "the men and women of Middletown Professional Firefighters Local 1073" discusses their call for an oven fire on High Street, on the Wesleyan University campus, and says, "something is bugging us."
"We’re not sure why, but you must have really admired the sweet thin red line flag on Engine 2, because you climbed up on the tailboard and cut it off and stole it.... We have to assume you really liked the flag, or maybe you thought it might be funny or cool, you know, something for the ‘Gram or the Tik Tok.
We’re a little worried that you might have cut it down to “fight oppression” or whatever. If that was your motivator, you clearly don’t understand the meaning behind the thin red line."
The 'thin red line" flag is a cousin to the more common "thin blue line" flag flown in remembrance of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. But the firefighters note that the flag is "not a political statement".
The post continued:
"We don’t care what your income is, your ethnicity, your gender, or who you voted for in the last election. We take an oath to help those in need, and that flag represents those who have paid the ultimate price trying to stay true to their oath. We get that some people have an issue with the American flag and the thin blue and even the thin red line these days. But honestly, even if that was your motivator, taking something that doesn’t belong to you is stealing - and stealing is wrong. Maybe your folks didn’t teach you that. Just a head’s up, trespassing and damaging city property are also kind of frowned upon by “the establishment” and all. Don’t worry though, we’ve reached out to the President of Wesleyan (as it happened on campus), Mayor Ben Florsheim, Wesleyan Public Safety, and Middletown PD. If they get a chance to talk to you, they’ll explain it."
FOX61 has emailed Mayor Florsheim and Wesleyan University President Roth, but have not yet heard back.
An update to the post notes that they don't know if the perpetrator was a Wesleyan student or had any connection to the university, and that the firefighters have worked with many students on their annual Christmas Toy Drive, and praised the generosity of the student body "as a whole".
The firefighters, often cited for their bravery, thought that stealing from them while they were inside a building dousing a fire was not exactly courageous.
"If you truly feel that you’re fighting the good fight, the next time you want to deface and steal our property, stand by your convictions. Be a grown up and wait til we’re outside and do it for the whole world to see. Otherwise, you’re not brave, you’re not a freedom fighter, and you’re not a hero. You’re a coward."
The flag was purchased by the firefighters with their own money, and they have replaced the stolen one. However, they would welcome restitution from the thief (or thieves).
"Don’t worry, we take Venmo. If you would like to return it, you can feel free to do so at fire headquarters. We’re here 24/7/365.
And don’t worry, if you have an emergency and call 911 - we’ll still come. That’s what we do."
The post was uploaded to Facebook about 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. Six hours later, it had almost 900 comments and had been shared 10,000 times. The union said they had gotten messages from around the state and the country asking if they can replace the flag or donate.
"We didn’t post this to ask for help. We were simply trying to shed light on the fact that a) the thin red line stands for honoring fallen members; and b) don’t touch what doesn’t belong to you.
We have already replaced the flag that was taken. However, IF you wish to do something to honor what the flag stands for, we suggest you consider making a donation to any of the following charities:
The IAFF Fallen Firefighters Memorial https://foundation.iaff.org/iaff-memorial/
The Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial https://portal.ct.gov/.../Connecticut-Firefighters-Memorial
Or, since we can all agree that 2020 has impacted so many people, any local charity that you feel would honor the memory and sacrifice of those members who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Because ultimately as firefighters and first responders as a whole, we get into this line of work to serve and help."