A Cecil fire chief who posted a racial slur on social media is no longer leading his volunteer fire department, a township administrator said Tuesday afternoon.
The change follows outrage over a Facebook comment by Paul Smith in response to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ decision not to take the field Sunday for the national anthem.
“Effective immediately, he is no longer fire chief of (Volunteer Fire Department) Muse No. 2,” township Manager Don Gennuso said.
The circumstances of how the change occurred were unclear, he said. A message posted on the township’s website Tuesday afternoon said a statement from the fire department’s president would be forthcoming.
Smith, who could not be reached, directed the racial slur at Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
Tomlin announced before Sunday’s game that the team would remain out of view from the crowd and television cameras when the national anthem was played at Chicago’s Soldier Field. Tomlin said he wanted to keep the team out of a political firestorm that erupted when President Donald criticized players who have protested police brutality and racial inequality during the past year by kneeling during the anthem.
Trump’s comments prompted more than 200 players across the NFL to kneel Sunday.
“Tomlin just added himself to the list of no good (N-words). Yes I said it,” Smith wrote on his Facebook page during the game.
Smith later apologized to a reporter. The post appears to have been removed from the social media site.
Gennuso said the township building in Washington County had fielded about 450 calls and dozens of emails related to the Facebook post as of 3 p.m. Tuesday, including ones from as far away as San Francisco and Florida.
“It’s understandable people are upset,” he said. “We are as well. It cast everyone in a poor light.”
Cecil resident Dorothy Maslonek was sympathetic to Smith.
“Everybody slips up, but I don’t think he should lose his job,” she told the Tribune-Review.
Township agencies and supervisors distanced themselves from Smith’s comment.
“The Cecil Township Board of Supervisors is deeply disturbed by the comments made by volunteer Chief Smith, and in no way, shape or form condone his comments,” officials said in a written statement.
A voicemail box at a phone number listed for the fire department was full and could not accept new messages. Phone numbers for several of the department’s officers listed on the website could not be located.
When contacted by the Tribune-Review, Richard Kotar Sr., who is listed as a member of the department’s board of directors said: “No comment.”
Gennuso spent a lot of time Tuesday explaining to outraged callers from across the country that the township’s three fire departments are staffed independently by volunteers, making it difficult for supervisors to take any kind of official action.”There’s zero tolerance for that type of language,” he said.
Three mills of property taxes collected by the township is solely to help fund the departments. The township is completing a study of the three departments, and supervisors hope to examine instituting a social media policy for volunteer firefighters.
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374, [email protected] or via Twitter @byrenatta.