Confederate Flag Sparked Conflict at Bethesda Fire Station

Firefighters in Bethesda, Maryland, are in court after an argument over one firefighter's Confederate flag license plate.

A Montgomery County firefighter with 10 years service says he spoke out against racism after seeing a fellow firefighter had the flag affixed to the front of his pickup truck. 

Fellow firefighters say in court documents requesting protective orders that the firefighter, Idris Debruhl, threatened them.

According to court documents, Debruhl was on duty at Station 6 the night of July 18 when he saw the flag on the front of a colleague's truck, backed up so that the flag faced the station. Racial slurs had previously been used against him, and he heard anti-Muslim statements against others. 

He said he told his supervisors about the flag, but they did nothing.

"I felt like this would be allowed and swept under the rug like so many other racial comments and symbols have been in the past," Debruhl said in a statement.

Debruhl said he called the truck's owner, Firefighter Charles Lee, "a racist and a coward," and that Lee told him to calm down.


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"We can take this outside," Debruhl said Lee said.

Debruhl's colleagues say Debruhl was the aggressor.

"I got more guns than all of you!" they said in protective orders that Debruhl said. "I'll end this now!"

Debruhl said he spoke out against the symbol but never threatened anyone. 

"What I called 'em is cowards, and I called 'em racists, and I stand by that," he said in an interview Tuesday.  

"I never mentioned guns," he said in a phone call. "This has all been made up, in retaliation to try to get me disciplined for standing up to the Confederate flag."

Lee was not immediately available for comment.

Debruhl and Lee are on duty but assigned to different fire houses.

Fire department spokesman Pete Piringer said the department is looking into the matter, the latest in several reports of offensive behavior by firefighters.

"We are looking into it. It's a very big concern and important issue for us," he said.

The fire department has issued guidance on what firefighters should do at work sites. 

One request for a protective order was thrown out of court. Another three will be considered by a judge.

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