Update: Monarch fire board president Robin Harris has decided that firefighters will be able to wear pink breast cancer t-shirts with lanyards around their neck for identification.
CHESTERFIELD, MO (KTVI) - Finding a cure for breast cancer has become a political pawn in an ongoing spat between a west St. Louis County fire department and its board. On Tuesday night, the hostility came to a head at the Monarch Fire Protection District board meeting.
Every year for the past four years, firefighters have spent one month wearing pink shirts, on and off duty, to raise money and awareness for breast cancer. It’s part of Pink Heals, a national movement in which firefighters support women with cancer. So far, Monarch firefighters have raised $6,000 for local charities.
Monarch Fire District Captain Andy Stecko explains, “What we do is design a shirt, we go to the chief for approval, once we get approval we produce the shirt. Each employee buys one to two.”
But the chief`s approval wasn`t good enough for this year`s board. Monarch Board President Robin Harris explains, “In compliance with the labor agreement, any modifications to the uniform have to come to the board.”
Board member Jane Cunningham adds, “They haven`t even made the request to us, it was kind of interesting, we felt kind of circumvented and blindsided as a board.”
So what`s wrong with wearing pink shirts on the job? Harris worries that criminals could wear the shirts, then pose as firefighters and scam innocent people. But firefighters and some taxpayers found holes in that argument. Stecko says, “We wear personal protective equipment, we wear helmets, we wear gloves.”
A taxpayer and member of a different union adds, “This union decal is not going to differentiate whether a real firefighter is coming to your home or not.”
Meanwhile, Monarch is no stranger to controversy. The district, which covers Creve Coeur to Chesterfield and Wildwood, has been plagued with accusations of mismanagement for some time. An election in April changed the makeup of the board, and has led to some tense relations between the board and firefighters.
The environment at this board meeting grew increasingly tense, as the public spoke out on both sides.
Former Board Member Rick Gans asks, “How in the world does Local 2665 make its own determination to change the official uniform for on duty personnel, even if for only a month?”
Another taxpayer laments, “I feel like the firefighter union is being picked on.”
But one thing most agree on is that politicizing cancer is sad and wrong. In an emotional testimony, a cancer survivor explains, “I’m outraged as a survivor, and hopefully as a spokesperson for men and women facing cancer, that we have this insensitivity to an act of kindness on the part of a fire department who just wants to give back.”
Some compromise could be on the horizon. The board president says if the fire chief can come up with a way to make Monarch personnel recognizable to the public, while wearing pink shirts, then they’ll be allowed to wear them on the job.
Despite this tentative solution, Monarch firefighters plan to protest outside the fire district headquarters in Chesterfield, on Wednesday morning at 9, with their pink shirts and Wentzville’s pink fire truck.
If you'd like to order one, send quantity and size info to MFCOshirts@yahoo.com. Orders should be made within the next two weeks.