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Fla. FF files complaint over photo of chief with ‘Hitler-style mustache’ giving Nazi salute on duty

Melbourne Firefighter Aaron Starkey also alleged that after he brought the image to the union’s attention, he was confronted by the accused chief

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By Leila Merrill

MELBOURNE, Fla. — A Melbourne firefighter filed a religious discrimination complaint against the Melbourne Fire Department, alleging that department leaders failed to act after a supervisor was photographed on duty giving a Nazi salute, Florida Today reported.

Firefighter Aaron Starkey’s complaint was filed on April 12 with the Florida Commission on Human Relations and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In it, Starkey describes the photo of Battalion Chief Jody Kahler as giving the salute in a fake “Hitler-style mustache” and wearing what appears to be a metal bowl on his head, which Starkey called a “German combat helmet,” while Kahler was on-duty and in his Melbourne Fire Department uniform.

“I am Jewish, and I found Kahler’s gesture extremely offensive,” Starkey wrote.


Image/Melbourne Fire Department

Starkey also alleged that after he brought the photo to the attention of the Melbourne firefighters union, Kahler confronted him on April 8 “in order to dissuade me from raising any further complaints.” Kahler allegedly admitted to posing as a Nazi, but attempted to trivialize his actions and failed to apologize for them, Starkey said.

It is unclear when the photo was taken.

The complaint further states that union officials failed to file a grievance on Starkey’s behalf and failed to keep the details of his complaint confidential, leading to Kahler being informed of Starkey’s complaints.

City spokeswoman Cheryl Mall said in a statement that the city learned of the allegations via Starkey’s complaint.

“The City of Melbourne takes allegations of any kind of discrimination, harassment and retaliation very seriously,” Mall wrote in the statement. “We will be conducting a thorough investigation in accordance with city policy.”

“When conducting formal investigations there is established due process that must be followed in order to ensure the legal rights of all those involved,” the statement said. “Upon completion of the investigation, any employees found to be in violation of the City’s policies will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.”

Starkey also alleged that he had been denied federally protected family medical leave in 2018, ClickOrlando reported. He also alleges that the department failed to reimburse him for required training in 2020, as well as subjecting him to multiple transfers and denying him a promotion as a result of his complaints.

The incident comes after a white Brevard County Fire Rescue firefighter was fired in February 2022 after photos of him wearing blackface during an off-duty Halloween party circulated on social media. Melbourne is in Brevard County.

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