Following the take down of the Battle of Liberty Place monument early Monday morning by a team of masked movers, rumors abounded across the city and online that the New Orleans Fire Department (NOFD) was commissioned by Mayor Mitch Landrieu to remove the Confederate statue on Iberville Street. On Wednesday (4.26), New Orleans Firefighters Association President Nick Felton confirmed in a press conference that at least half a dozen firefighters were enlisted to take down the monument early Monday on Mayor Landrieu’s instructions.
Felton and the NOFD have been under heavy scrutiny in the days following the controversial memorial’s dismantling. On Tuesday, Felton released a statement which absolved the city’s Fire Department of any intentional involvement in the dismantling of the Battle of Liberty Place monument — but did not deny the persistent rumors that firefighters were recruited for the take down. “Any involvement […] does not represent the whole of the New Orleans Fire Department. Any such personal involvement by the unnamed but easily recognizable leadership of the NOFD would be an irresponsible breach of trust with the membership,” said Felton in the statement.
Due to the security risks involved, the City of New Orleans decided that all details about future monument removals would not be made public. The crew removing the Battle of Liberty Place statue Monday morning wore masks and body suits to obscure their identity; the early morning removal time was intended to ward off the violent threats that the project members have already received. Despite those efforts, the NOFD swiftly came under fire when photos emerged on social media that seemed to prove that several firefighters — including leading NOFD members — were active on scene.
Felton again sounded off on the controversy Wednesday at the live press conference outside of City Hall. The NOFA President confirmed that although the Department did not have any direct involvement in the monument takedown, he did have knowledge of at least "five or six" firefighters on scene.
He stated that while he was unsure whether any firefighters volunteered for the job, he was critical that his department was enlisted for work beyond the traditional scope of their duties. “We should not be in riot gear, we should not be doing police-type work,” said Felton.
Photos taken by persons on scene early Monday morning seem to show several Fire Department members, including NOFD Superintendent Tim McConnell, as part of the team of movers. When asked about McConnell’s alleged involvement, Felton again remained firm in his stance that the Department is not directly involved: “I can’t really confirm that he is [involved but], surely looked like him to me.”
On Thursday morning, Nick Felton released a third statement, in as many days. “The New Orleans Firefighters Association, Local 632 is calling on the City of New Orleans to stop putting Firefighters in harm’s way by involving them in the removal of the monuments. While the Union is not here to take a stand on the removal of the monuments, we ARE here to defend our membership when they are used to perform tasks that they are not trained to do and put them at unnecessary risk.”
The New Orleans Firefighters Association President then echoed his earlier statement that firefighters should not do police work. Felton continued, "Firefighters are being threatened because the City Administration has drug us into this, and we want the public and everyone to know – that we feel Firefighters have no business being involved in this divisive issue. Our commitment and mission remains to protect the citizens of this city from the perils of fire.”