ALEXANDRIA, Va. - An Alexandria firefighter is under investigation after he made a gesture most recently associated with the "white power" movement while on camera during one of FOX 5’s popular Zip Trip segments.
An alert viewer tipped off FOX 5 that the firefighter could be seen on camera closing his fist, and then flashing an "okay" sign.
Alexandria Fire Department officials declined to identify the man, but said he has been a member of the department for less than three years.
Officials say he has not yet been disciplined – the investigation must be completed first.
Currently, he’s been placed on administrative leave.
The firefighter makes the gesture as the cameras roll by – right before the segment returns to FOX 5’s anchors.
It is important to note that the "okay" hand symbol was used as part of a punching game if you flashed it, as well as the circle game. It is used by scuba divers communicating under water. It is also listed by the Anti-Defamation League as a gesture of hate – sometimes used to express "white power."
Alexandria Fire Department Chief Corey Smedley told FOX 5 that he has not talked to the member yet, but confirmed that the matter is under investigation. He says he’s not sure whether the gesture may have been made as a joke – but he’s also not sure that’s relevant.
FOX 5 asked what if it turns out that the gesture was made as some kind of joke.
Chief Smedley responded, "A joke is only if someone is not offended by it. And it’s always in the eye of the beholder. And just because someone may have thought things were a joke, it’s not something that’s up to our values within the department. So we have to first and foremost make every attempt to maintain the integrity and trust of the community and joking is not something that’s a part of our mission."
Chief Smedley thanked that viewer for bringing this to everyone’s attention.
The chief said once they were alerted to it on Friday and – in less than three hours – all of the city’s stakeholders were informed, and that member was placed on administrative leave – with pay.
A city-wide study reported on in May (see document below) noted that, the fire department members who participated said that racism, sexism and favoritism were ruining morale and undercutting trust in the department.
When asked if there is racism within the Alexandria Fire Department, Chief Smedley told FOX 5 that the fire department is a microcosm of society and, just like society, the fire department has its issues and they are going to address those issues when they come up.
He also noted the actions of one member is not representative of the entire department.
The union that represents Alexandria firefighters provided a statement shortly after FOX 5's story aired.