DETROIT (WJBK) – Earlier this month, 41-year-old Robert Pattison went to introduce himself to his fellow firefighters at Engine 55 at Joy and Southfield in Detroit. Second Battalion Chief Shawn McCarty calls it a tradition for firefighters.
“It’s not mandatory, it’s voluntary,” he says. “You come in bearing gifts. The usual gift is doughnuts, but you are allowed to bring whatever you want to bring in.”
And Pattison, a probationary firefighter, decided to bring a watermelon wrapped in a pink ribbon. We’re told some African-American firefighters were instantly offended, since 90 percent of the people who work at Engine 55 are black.
“When you get your first detail at a firehouse you pretty much know what you are getting yourself into,” says Patrick Trout. “So you would have to say it was probably a bad call.”
FOX 2: “Is it racially insensitive to bring a watermelon into a fire house?”
“To some people,” McCarty says.
FOX 2 spoke to Pattison by phone, who claims it was not a joke – and he did not mean to offend his fellow firefighters. But he clearly did. Fire Commissioner Eric Jones says the Fenton native was officially discharged.
In a statement Jones says: “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.”
In a world where racial tensions run high, some tell me the trial firefighter should have known better. Trout doesn’t know if he meant anything by it – but feels it was a bad choice.
“For sure by far it was,”
The question is did DFD take it too far?
FOX 2: “Should he have lost his job over a watermelon?”
“I don’t think so,” McCarty says. “Between what he did and what was there are a few things that could have been done.”