NM fire chief bans controversial 'FMB' helmet stickers

The initials, which appear in the traditional firefighting symbol, the Maltese Cross, appear to have a "dual meaning," the chief said

By Dan McKay
The Albuquerque Journal

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Fire Chief James Breen ordered Albuquerque firefighters on Tuesday to remove stickers from their helmets containing the mysterious initials "FMB."

The initials, which appear in the traditional firefighting symbol, the Maltese Cross, appear to have a "dual meaning," Breen told reporters.

Union President Diego Arencón said he's been told the initials stand for "Forever My Brothers," a message of solidarity with fellow firefighters. But some believe it means "Forget Mayor Berry" — or something more profane.

Regardless of the meaning, Breen said, the stickers are unauthorized and must be removed immediately from any helmets or other city- owned equipment.

"To pair the Maltese Cross with any message that may be potentially perceived as derogatory is shameful, disrespectful to our service and should not be tolerated by any one of us," Breen said in a memo.

Arencón said it's "unfortunate" that so much attention is focused on something as simple as stickers.

"The direction I've been given by certain members ... it means 'Forever My Brothers.' We have bigger fish to fry than what an acronym means," Arencón said. "The focus of attention should be public safety."

The mayoral administration and firefighters' union have been at odds for months. The city reduced the pay of firefighters — and other city employees — and has been involved in litigation with the union on several matters.

Arencón said morale and attrition are a problem. More than 30 firefighters and paramedics retired last year, he said.

Breen said the number of retirements was higher than usual but unrelated to pay reductions. New applicants and cadets are replacing them, he said.

"The mayor has a great deal of respect for firefighters," he said. But "these are fiscally challenging times."

Breen said the administration isn't trying to identify who's using the stickers or to discipline them. Anyone who refuses to remove them, however, could face discipline, he said.

Copyright 2011 Albuquerque Journal

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