By Ben Terris, Globe Correspondent
A veteran of the Iraq War, Richard Busa is used to fighting for the American flag. But never quite like this.
After more than three years of rushing into fires with his signature red, white and blue helmet, the Newton firefighter has been told to paint it black. Newton Fire Chief Joseph LaCroix wants the patriotic decoration gone, saying it does not conform to the department's rules.
LaCroix, himself a veteran of the Vietnam War, said that his decision has nothing to do with the flag, but with how he wants his department to conduct business.
John Bohn/Globe Staff
"We run a quasi-military operation here," LaCroix said in an interview yesterday. "You think people in the Marine Corps wake up for drills and say, 'I think I'm going to wear this shirt today even though everyone else is wearing that one'? Of course not."
Busa, 32, who has been in the department for seven years, decorated the helmet with heat resistant paint, the same type used on automobiles and grills, and it has refused to fade after numerous fires. He said he checked departmental rules before painting it, and found no prohibition against decorating the helmet.
"Firefighters are people of tradition and I wanted to alter one in a positive way," Busa said of his decision to give his helmet a patriotic flavor. "I wanted to show my patriotism and show that the flag and what it stood for was tough enough to come with me in burning buildings."
The controversy surfaced in a column by Tom Mountain, who frequently writes for the Newton Tab. "Who would have the audacity, the indecency, to ask any fireman to remove the flag from his helmet? Where in America is such a place? Newton, Massachusetts,'' Mountain wrote in the column, which was posted online earlier this week.
LaCroix said that the department allows small decorations on helmets like shamrock stickers but that painting the entire helmet goes over the line.
"Where does it stop if we allow this?" LaCroix said. "What if someone wants to paint an Italian flag, or cartoon characters? We just can't give up our appearance of professionalism."
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