February 10, 2020
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Waterville fire chief says firefighter’s hand gesture was due to injury

Screenshot of Waterville Fire Re | BDN
Screenshot of Waterville Fire Re | BDN
Waterville’s fire chief said a firefighter who made a hand gesture associated with white power in an official department photo did so unknowingly, without racist intent.

Waterville’s fire chief said Friday that a firefighter who made a hand gesture associated with white power in an official department photo did so unknowingly, and that the gesture was the result of a thumb injury.

There was no extremist intent behind the firefighter’s gesture, said Fire Chief Shawn Esler, who said the night before that he planned to investigate to determine the firefighter’s intent.

“Members in the photo were interviewed as a part of a normal inquiry and we confirmed no horseplay regarding the ‘OK’ symbol or any racially charged motivation existed,” Esler said. “There was absolutely no reason to believe our firefighter possessed any hatred or tyrannical white power motivation with this photograph.”

The firefighter admitted to making the hand gesture, Esler said, but it was because he had injured his thumb superficially during training the same day.

“The gesture was a direct result of an injury to his hand he had received earlier in the day,” Esler said. “The firefighter sustained a superficial injury to his thumb while conducting intensive hands on training with self­-contained breathing apparatus.”

The firefighter did not report this injury immediately, according to department policy, and supervisors were therefore not aware of it, according to Esler.

“Had any evidence surfaced to support such an allegation of ‘white supremacy’ or ‘racial bias,’ our organization (as a whole) would condemn such acts,” he said.

The “OK” sign — with the index finger pressed to the thumb to make a circle and the three other fingers extended — has been listed as a symbol of hate. It first became associated with white power in 2017, and became more common as white nationalists began using it in public, The New York Times has reported.

The Waterville Fire Department photo had been the cover photo on the department’s Facebook page since Tuesday. It took the photo down Thursday night after the BDN asked about it.


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