We as members of the Public Safety community are very mindful of the customs and traditions of our various services. Many of the traditions within the fire department have been handed down for, well, since 1736. 1736 was the year that Ben Franklin started the first fire department in Philadelphia.
When we learn of a Line of Duty Death, we are quick to show our compassion, our grief, and our support of a fallen brother or sister. While we strive to follow the customs of our various services, it seems that the customs, tradition, and rules regarding the United States Flag are quickly forgotten.
Why do you fly the flag at your station at half staff? Who directs that it be flown at half staff How long should the flag remain at half mast? Is there a real policy, or is it at the liberty of each department to do as they wish, for as long as they wish.
Surprise. There is a policy. There are a number of web sites that list proper etiquette for displaying of the American flag. For example, www.ushistory.org/BETSY/flagetiq.html lists the proper Flag Rules and Regulations
Did you know that only the President of the United States of America, a State Governor, or the Mayor of Washington DC can direct that the American flag be flown at half staff? This authority is not delegated to a Fire Chief, Police Chief, Municipal Mayor, or the membership of a fire department.
In the event of a Line of Duty Death, the Governor of the State may issue a Proclamation that the flags of his/her state be flown at half mast for x number of days, as a period of mourning. This is a very specific proclamation. At the end of that period of mourning, it is expected that flags will be hoisted back to full staff.
Many companies (in the private sector) have gotten into the habit (or tradition) of lowering flags upon death of an employee. Is it appropriate to lower the American (or State) flag to half staff in such a situation? NO. Again, only the President of the United States of America, or a State Governor, can direct that the American or State Flag be flown at half mast. If a private company wises such a display of respect or mourning, they they should lower their (private) company flag, not the American or State flag.
On what days is the flag to be flown at half staff? Peace Officers Day (May 15th), the flag shall be flown at half staf from sunrise to sunset. Memorial Day (last Monday in May), the flag shall be flown at half staff from Sunrise to 12:00 noon. Patriots Day (September 11th), the flag shall be flown at half staff from Sunrise to sunset. And on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (December 7th), the flag shall be flown at half staff from Sunrise to sunset.
Why do I care? Because alot of veterans have died in service to this country. That number is in excess of 1,500,000 United States airman, soldiers, sailors, and marines. I care because it makes no sense to me to rigidly follow one set of traditions (such as black bunting), but disregarding the rules for proper display of the American flag.
I care because there are still alot of WWII veterans among us. They are easy to recognize, as they are the first to their feet when the Flag passes during a parade. They remove their hats during the National Anthem without needing a public address speaker telling them to do so. They do not speak much of their service, it matters only that they went, and served. Ask one of these bets, they recognize disrespect of our flag immediately.
I know that none of us intends to intentionally disrespect the flag of the United States. Quite to the contrary, we are trying to honor a fallen brother/sister by lowering our flags to half staff. I do not have a problem with that. But at the end of the official period of mourning, it is time for the flag to return to full staff. The funerals over, we straighten our backs, wipe the tears away, and return to work.
We will never forget those whom have fallen.
For the Public Safety Personnel:
On a critical incident NOBODY will remember what order you arrived if you drove sensibly at the speed limit. However EVERYONE will remember if you drove like an idiot at excessive speed and didn't arrive at all.
Everyone Goes Home