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Las Vegas Fire Department spokesman douses uproar over tweet

By the time the Las Vegas Fire Department arrived to battle the intense three-alarm blaze on July 11, the roof of the house in rural Clark County was caving in. Soon after, a firefighter whisked away an American flag from the front of the dwelling to ensure it did not burn.

Tim Szymanski, a spokesman and 23-year veteran of the department, memorialized the rescue by posting a picture the next day to Twitter.

“Some people want to burn our flag, WE save it,” he wrote at the end of the caption.

What Szymanski simply considered “a good photo” to share, others found offensive. The tweet has sparked much more engagement a week later than the department’s typical post, drawing rebukes from some perceiving the caption to be political and praise from others who viewed the post as patriotic.

“If my politics don’t align with yours, do you let my house burn?” wrote one Twitter user. “Nobody wants their Fire Dept political.”

“Don’t go political unless you’re a politician. No need,” wrote another. “You guys do enough amazing stuff. I’d say it backfired from the looks of the comments.”

But also among the 250-plus comments Friday were expressions of gratitude.

“The fact anyone is upset about showing honor and patriotism is ridiculous,” wrote a Twitter user.

“Thank you for what you do each and everyday,” wrote another.

For Szymanski, the caption boils down to a mistake he said he has owned up to by advising city staff and by not deleting the tweet, which had 1,100 likes by Friday. He added that city officials reminded him of social media policy instructing employees to remain neutral on political matters.

“There was no intent to make a political statement,” he said. “I did learn a lot from this experience. I read each and every one of the replies, and now have a better understanding of Twitter and how people perceive things.”

Szymanski said the firefighter who saved the flag is a military veteran of the U.S. Army Special Forces, a Green Beret, who was inspired to act after thinking of those killed in conflicts in which he had served.

As for the house, Szymanski called it a total loss. Firefighters were hampered by lack of water supply and few fire hydrants in the unincorporated county area where the blaze occurred. And they had responded because there are no county fire stations in the vicinity.

Those who lived in the home escaped without injury, he added, and were “extremely grateful” the flag was spared.

“They are going to put it in a shadow box and hang it on the wall of their home when it is rebuilt,” he said, adding that the family planned to put the firefighter’s name on the box. “They want to meet him and thank him in person for what he did,” Szymanski said.

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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