Photo mocks firefighter with Arabic-sounding name

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A doctored photo found on a computer at a Jacksonville fire station might have been meant as a joke, but no one is taking it that way. The fire department and Sheriff's Office are investigating who did it and why.

News4Jax is not using the firefighter's name and blurred the face in the photo. He was recently hired and just transferred to Station 18 in northwest Jacksonville.

The picture, found as the screensaver on a workstation used by several people at the firehouse, shows him with what appears to be a fake beard and next to him, a skull wearing a Santa hat. The photo also has the words "Jingle bombs."

The firefighter told News4Jax he was not offended by it, but others were. The fire chief said the department learned about the photo over the weekend and is taking it very seriously, as is the integrity unit of JSO.

No one from the fire station would talk about the photo. In fact, squawking noises and odd sounds were put on the loudspeakers as the bay doors were closed.

"We have to be very careful because there are complexities attached to something like this," said JFRD spokesman Tom Francis. "We want to make sure that each and every component is thoroughly weighted, so we are going to see how the investigation progresses before we can address if there is an actual violation as it relates to our internal policies."

The firefighter in the picture told the union he is not offended and wishes the whole incident was behind him, but others were offended by it, including district fire Chief Terrence Jones.

"I was appalled, to be perfectly honest," Jones said.

Jones is with the Brotherhood of Firefighters, a group that is been involved with an ongoing lawsuit with the city, the fire department and firefighters' union. Many years ago, signs saying "welcome to the plantation" were posted in an office where black firefighters were just promoted.

Jones said this incident shows not much has changed.

"We have an anti-hazing policy. We have an anti-discriminatory policy. We have a policy that we go through classes to let us know what we can do and what we cannot do," Jones said. "We are at work. Even though fire stations seem like home, you're still at work."

The head of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters said it's hard to comment at this point since the investigation has just started.

"If anybody takes offense to something done at the station, obviously it's something that needs to be addressed," said Randy Wyse. "But you got to wait, vet it out and see what actually occurred. You need to find out more (of) the facts before we make a determination on what really occurred."

What troubles some is the fact that someone within the department was making fun of a terrorist situation. Even though the person who was the butt of the joke was not offended, others in our community say it's a problem and needs to be addressed now. 

Parvez Ahmed, who serves on the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission, calls it Islamophobia and says it's been happening more and more after the attacks in San Bernardino and Paris.

"It is a kind of hate speech. It's a kind of a way to intimidate somebody. It's a kind of micro-aggression to make them feel uncomfortable; to backlash on somebody," Ahmed said. "And it doesn't have to happen against a Muslim person. Can happen to people who are perceived to be Muslim."

People with the fire department and the firefighters' union said the incident does not show prejudice against Muslims, Arabs or others from the Middle East, and those outside the department said they hope not, and making sure this is dealt with immediately is how they can prove that.

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