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Newton firefighter leaves his patriotic helmet behind

Posted December 18, 2008 10:07 AM

By Ben Terris

A Newton firefighter has decided to stop wearing his red, white and blue helmet, after Fire Chief Joseph LaCroix deemed it inappropriate to the uniform.

Firefighter Richard Busa, an Iraq war veteran, had been wearing the spray-painted, red, white and blue helmet for nearly three years, when LaCroix objected.

Facing a possible suspension, Busa decided it would be best to don another helmet lest he jeopardize his career.

"I have been part of the fire department for over three years and I have never disobeyed an order, never been reprimanded for anything, and now was not a good time to start," Busa said in an interview. "I have a family, I am getting married, and I am going to buy a house, and the money I get from this job is the only money that is allowing me to survive."

Meanwhile, Newton Mayor David Cohen issued a statement Thursday backing LaCroix and the chief's reasoning. Cohen said the issue was not one of patriotism or freedom of speech.

"If Chief LaCroix allows Firefighter Busa's display on his helmet, then he is allowing every firefighter in the Department to decorate theirs as well. It is the duty of Chief LaCroix's to maintain a level of professionalism within his department. If we had 160 different decorations on each firefighter helmet, that would be compromised,'' Cohen said in the statement.

Busa said he was disappointed with the decision, but had no regrets.

"Just because I am going to be putting on a black helmet, doesn't mean this issue was a waste," he said. "It's opened the door for the public to see that the fire department isn't all that it says it is. Now that the public is talking about the fire department, maybe the conversation will start to turn to the real problems we are facing, like the lack of good equipment we are provided."

Not willing to pay the $225 dollars for a new helmet, Busa will be borrowing Union President Tom Lopez's old one.

The episode generated controversy, with dozens of readers posting comments on boston.com.

"Save your individuality and free expression for when you're out of uniform,'' one reader said.

"The chief let it go for 3 years without a warning. Sounds like precedent has been set,'' said another.

For more news and information about Newton, go to Boston.com/newton.

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