A newly hired firefighter was let go because he brought a watermelon topped with a pink bow into the firehouse as a friendly gesture. The problem was, most of his fellow firefighters were black and some saw it as racist.
Robert Pattison, 41, showed up at Engine 55 in Detroit bearing the gift of fruit as a way to introduce himself to the crew. Second Battalion Chief Shawn McCarty, who is black, said Pattison was following a tradition at the firehouse of bringing in gifts as the new guy.
“It's not mandatory, it's voluntary," McCarty said. "You come in bearing gifts. The usual gift is doughnuts, but you are allowed to bring in whatever you want to bring in."
Ninety percent of the firefighters at Engine 55 are black, according to Fox 2, which made the gift appear to be an odd choice.
"When you get your first detail at a firehouse you pretty much know what you are getting yourself into," said firefighter Patrick Trout, who is not black. "So you would have to say it was probably a bad call."
Fox 2 asked Chief McCarty, “Is it racially insensitive to bring a watermelon into a firehouse?"
“To some people,” the chief answered.
However, when McCarty was asked if Pattison should’ve been fired, he said, “I don't think so. Between what he did and what was there are a few things that could have been done."
But according to Fire Commissioner Eric Jones, the city has a zero tolerance policy:
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.
Pattison assured Fox 2 that the watermelon wasn’t meant as a joke and that he didn’t mean it to come across as offensive. But for the ever-offended, it doesn't take much to be triggered.