Date: May 6, 2008
Byline: Damon C. Williams
Ayers Balks At Order On Flag Display
WHEN MAYOR NUTTER declared a 30-day period of mourning on Saturday for slain Police Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski, he asked that all flags in the city be lowered to half-staff for that period.
But according to the Flag Code, only the president of the United States or a governor can order the flag lowered to half-staff. And yesterday, it became clear that the Fire Department was not going to comply with the mayor's request.
"This has been the law for 54 years, since Eisenhower was president, when he proclaimed that only the president and governor can give the order to fly flags at half-staff," said Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers. "Only our American flag can be honored and respected that way.
"The president on the federal level and the governor on the state level [are the only ones who can give the order]. It's not something you can do based on emotion."
Meanwhile, Chuck Ardo, a spokesman for Gov. Rendell, insisted that the governor has no authority over how the American flag is flown.
Officials from Nutter's office did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the flag issue.
And officials from the International Association of Firefighters' Local Union 22 in Philadelphia said they backed Ayers' stance.
Ayers emphasized that his department stands firmly by the Police Department in its time of grief.
"We understand the emotion, and no one, outside of that officer's family and the Police Department, feels this more than I. We go to the front lines with them all the time, and we work with them and they work with us," Ayers said.
"Many times, we are right beside each other. We'll have paramedics working on injured police, and the police will carry a burn victim to the hospital.
"When they bleed, we feel it. For someone to say or think we'd prevent the mourning of this officer being shot and killed is ludicrous and doesn't make much sense."
Ayers said that sometimes, individual firehouses may occasionally lower the flag momentarily out of emotion, but "it's a federal law, and not something they can just do," he said.
"The law is real clear."
Ayers said his department is honoring the heroism of Liczbinski by allowing members to wear mourning ribbons.
"We want to be able to support the police, and we can't always do different things, but we will allow the mourning-ribbon band until [Liczbinski] is buried," Ayers said.
"We do not want to cheapen their mourning, but this is a way we can show support."
USHISTORY.ORG UPDATE: The Mayor later clarified that he meant that the city flag should be flown at half-staff, which the Fire Department is doing.
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