Last week, Robert Pattison, 41, formally greeted the firefighters he would be working with at Engine 55 in Detroit, which is customary for firefighters, according to Second Battalion Chief Shawn McCarty.
“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.”
For his gift, Pattison, who was still on his probationary period, Pattison decided to give his coworkers a watermelon wrapped in a pink ribbon. Some of the staff members reportedly took immediate offense to this gesture, since over 90 percent of them 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.
Pattison claims the gift was not a joke. Although some were offended, he says he had no ill intentions. Fire Commissioner Eric Jones says Pattison was formally discharged.
Jones released a statement on the matter, in which he 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.”
Given the intensity of racial tension in the world, some say Pattison should have known better. Trout doesn’t know what the trial firefighter’s intentions were – but thinks it was a bad move.
“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.”