Wash. fire union's response to tweet mocking masks goes viral

Spokane County Fire District 8 IAFF Local 3711 President Jay Wilkins, who wrote the response, said it wasn't meant to be political and that he was surprised by the public's reaction


Emma Epperly
The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.

SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. — A Spokane County firefighters’ union pushed back against conservative commentator Tomi Lahren’s snarky post about mask wearing Tuesday, garnering thousands of likes on Twitter.

The tweet by Spokane County Fire District 8, which operates four stations covering a large area south of Spokane and Spokane Valley, was a response to Lahren making fun of a Joe Biden campaign video showing the former vice president donning a mask while President Donald Trump removed his mask.

Lahren wrote, “Might as well carry a purse with that mask, Joe.”

Firefighters replied with their own tweet: “As we do one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. We’d carry a purse to if it meant keeping our community safe.”

Union President Jay Wilkins, who composed the tweet that now has more than 30,000 likes and more than 5,000 retweets, said he was surprised at the public reaction.

“It was a funny reply but also kind of a little bit of, ‘Hey, you know, we’ll wear a purse, we’ll do whatever it takes to make our community better,’” Wilkins said. “We’re the fire department; that’s what we do. We come together to solve problems … in this case it takes wearing a mask.”

Wilkins said the tweet was not meant to be political nor was it supposed to represent the fire district.

“This is not a fire district-sanctioned political campaign. This was more of a union endeavor, if you will,” Wilkins said. “It wasn’t supposed to be political but it turned out that way.”

Wilkins said the union has been using social media for years to engage with the community and show them behind the scenes of life as a firefighter.

“For us, the most important reason to have a social media presence is it gives folks a peek to what we do,” Wilkins said. “It’s a way to engage the community because we know where they are – they’re behind their phones. So it’s a great way to meet folks.”

Normally the firefighters share videos of training, pictures from wildfires they are fighting, and photos of their fire trucks.

After writing the tweet, Wilkins said he went into his biweekly COVID-19 operations meeting. An hour later, he looked at his phone and said, “Oh, wow.”

There were a variety of responses in the more than 400 replies to the tweet. Many called the firefighters “patriotic” or touted their “solid sense of humor in hard times.”

Others were critical of the firefighters touching on politics, Wilkins said. And many people corrected Wilkins’ grammar.

“All I could see is every teacher I’ve ever had shaking their heads at me,” Wilkins said of using the wrong form of the word “too.”

But it was a chance for that sense of humor Wilkins said he and his fellow firefighters share to shine.

“We can laugh at ourselves, too,” Wilkins said. “A little sense of humor goes a long way.”

Ultimately, Wilkins and his fellow firefighters hope the tweet encourages people to follow public health guidelines, something they promote on and off social media.

“When we’re out and about and we see folks … we really encourage people to wear masks,” Wilkins said.

Even on social media, Wilkins said they make a point to share photos in proper personal protective equipment and share relevant information from Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz.

While Wilkins acknowledges the last few months have been difficult in dealing with COVID-19 both professionally and personally, he said it’s a chance to be leaders in the community.

“We have to be leaders in our community,” Wilkins said. “I think one of the best ways to be a leader is to follow the science and our local leadership.”

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©2020 The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wash.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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