When new firefighters are slated to start at the Detroit Fire Department, it is a tradition for them to give their team a gift. But when the new firefighter Robert Pattison, 41, gave his coworkers a gift as a gesture of goodwill. But instead, Pattison used the opportunity to give the predominantly black fire department a “racially insensitive” gift that left the majority of firefighters offended. Pattison had given the crew, which was 90 percent black, a watermelon tied with a pink ribbon. As you can imagine, this did not go over well with the new colleague’s coworkers.
To be part of a fire team, each member needs to know that the others will have each other’s backs no matter what. Because Pattison’s gift was racially insensitive, the black firefighters didn’t know if they could trust him when the going got tough.
Typically, new firefighters bring donuts or coffee for a station-warming gift. Instead, Pattison decided to bring a watermelon because most of his coworkers were black.
Second Battalion Chief Shawn McCarty told WJBK that “some people” at the station were offended by the gift. McCarty who is a black man personally did not feel that the new firefighter should have lost his job over the gift.
“Between what he did and losing his job, there are a few things that could have been done,” McCarty said.
McCarty also said that the gift giving is not mandatory. It is a completely voluntary thing that is encouraged to spread goodwill among the firefighters and build camaraderie. But what Pattison did was divisive.
“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 whatever you want to bring in.”
The Detroit Fire Commissioner Eric Jones released a statement to the public explaining in detail why Robert Pattison was fired for the watermelon gift.
WJBK reported on the statement:
“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 racially offensive 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.”
When Pattison was fired, he approached WJBK to explain himself. He said that when he gave his black coworkers the watermelon, he did not mean it as a joke. He said he didn’t mean to offend anyone.
Fellow firefighter Patrick Tout thought Pattison made the wrong move. “When you get your first detail at a firehouse you pretty much know what you are getting yourself into. So you would have to say it was probably a bad call.”
Because racial tension are running high, it was a risky gift to give.
Trout said, “for sure by far it was” a bad gift to give to black firefighters.
What do you think about this firefighter’s gift of a watermelon? Where do you stand on this topic?