A white probationary firefighter starting at the Detroit Engine 55 fire station was fired for gifting a watermelon adorned with a pink bow -- instead of the traditional donuts -- to his predominantly African-American crew on the grounds that some members of the station were offended by the gesture.
Fentin native Robert Pattinson, 41, had just started at the station when he brought the watermelon as part of the introduction tradition, according to WJBK. The recruit was not aware of the racial implications involving watermelons and the African-American community. Second Battalion Chief Shawn McCarty said to WJBK that the gifting is a way for the new firehouse workers to introduce themselves.
"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."
WJBK asked McCarty if bringing a watermelon to the firehouse had racial implications. "To some people," McCarty said.
However, Tadarius Spearman, a fireman at Engine 55, stuck up for Pattinson in a social media post on Oct.10, uploading a group photo of Pattinson with other African-American firefighters, reports WJBK.
"Just want to let everyone know he's a real amazing dude and it was all good intentions," he wrote. "And our entire class (is) supporting him in this. Especially us African-Americans and that's all that needs to be said. Stay up brother. #DFD."
Pattinson told WJBK by phone that it was not a joke. But Fire Commissioner Eric Jones officially discharged him regardless.
Jones released a statement to WJBK. "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," Jones wrote. "After a thorough investigation, it was determined that the best course of action was to terminate the employment of this probationary employee."
With recent events, such as the NFL protests against police discrimination and brutality and the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, bringing racial tensions to a high, Patrick Trout told WJBK that the recruit should have known better.
"When you get your first detail at a firehouse you pretty much know what you are getting yourself into," says Trout. "So you would have to say it was probably a bad call."
WJBK asked McCarty if the recruit should have lost his job.
"I don't think so," McCarty responded. He said there were a few other things that could have been done, instead.