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Va. fire dept. reverses decision on Confederate flag patch

The department's president, who resigned before the vote, said he wanted the old patch to go back to what they had when he joined 18 years ago

The Free Lance-Star

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Chancellor Volunteer Fire and Rescue’s new president resigned Monday night just before members “overwhelmingly” voted to overturn the reinstatement of a uniform patch depicting a Confederate battle flag, Administrative Chief Kevin Dillard said.

The action comes about a month after the Spotsylvania County volunteers voted 21–14 to bring back the controversial patch, which shows an eagle clutching an American flag in one talon and a Confederate flag in the other.

Dillard said Jim La Claire, who stepped down as president Monday at the organization’s monthly meeting, spurred the change without consulting other leaders.

La Claire, who was elected to the post in December, said he had no choice but to resign because his action led to “bad press” in violation of Chancellor’s bylaws. Members will elect a new president next month, Dillard said.

Asked why he wanted to reinstate the old patch, La Claire said: "That was the patch they had when I joined 18 years ago. I just wanted to go back to what we had. It's just a heritage thing, you know?”

But just three or four of the approximately 60 volunteers who attended Monday’s meeting voted to keep the battle flag patch, Dillard said.

“I feel like the membership spoke loud and clear ... and the department did the right thing,” he said. He said he told other volunteers at the meeting that some people consider the flag to be a “symbol of discrimination and past injustices.”

Several years ago, Dillard said, Chancellor replaced the official patch’s Confederate flag with a second American flag in an effort to be more inclusive. That will continue to be the design after this week’s vote, he said. Some members said the battle flag was removed from the patch without a formal vote by the volunteers, but Dillard denies that claim.

The patch is sewn on dress uniforms worn by the honor guard and other members during formal events. Chancellor, a nonprofit, last year received $506,911 in local tax dollars, including $55,000 for uniforms.

On Chancellor’s Facebook page, a man wrote recently that the patch issue was an example of “dixiephobia.” “Stop the discrimination against Southern culture/heritage!” the man wrote.

The minutes of last month’s meeting state that La Claire motioned to bring back the “original patch” with the battle flag. He was supported by Vice President Phillip Gouldman.

During the discussions, a volunteer lieutenant said he liked the old patch but didn’t want the department to receive negative publicity, according to the minutes. Another volunteer said he thought the patch should depict the Confederate States of America flag instead of the battle flag while another said he thought the Virginia state flag was more appropriate.

Copyright 2016 The Free Lance-Star
All Rights Reserved

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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