DETROIT — It’s a tradition at one Detroit firehouse for new firefighters to introduce themselves with a gift for their colleagues — but one man’s gift choice apparently got him fired, according to WJBK.
Instead of the usual gift of doughnuts, 41-year-old probationary firefighter Robert Pattison decided to greet his fellow Engine 55 firefighters – most of whom are black – with a large watermelon topped with a pink ribbon.
Several African-American firefighters were reportedly offended by the watermelon, which has been used as a racist symbol dating back to the slavery era.
“When you get your first detail at a firehouse, you pretty much know what you are getting yourself into,” said Engine 55 firefighter Patrick Trout. “So you would have to say it was probably a bad call.”
Pattison said he didn’t mean to offend anyone and claimed it wasn’t supposed to be a joke, but the department decided to fire him, according to WJBK, who received this statement from Fire Commissioner Eric Jones:
“There is zero tolerance for discriminatory behavior inside the Detroit Fire Department. On Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, at Engine 55, a trial firefighter (probationary employee) engaged in unsatisfactory work behavior which was deemed offensive and racially insensitive to members of the Detroit Fire Department. After a thorough investigation, it was determined that the best course of action was to terminate the employment of this probationary employee.”
When asked if Pattison deserved to lose his job over the watermelon, Second Battalion Chief Shawn McCarty said he wasn’t sure.
“Between what he did and losing his job, there were a few things that could have been done,” McCarty said.