Here's a statement you probably wouldn't expect to hear from Debra Amesqua, the fire chief of Madison, words she herself probably never imagined would pass her lips: "I don't believe our firefighters are dirty, rotten scoundrels."
Amesqua is reacting, as diplomatically as she can, to remarks made Monday by WIBA radio shrieker Vicki McKenna, about an allegedly disruptive element in the counter-protest to last Saturday's tea party rally at the state Capitol. McKenna said this element was "sent there by the Madison firefighters union, you filthy rotten scoundrels, you lousy, rotten people. You are supposed to be our heroes. We hold up the firefighters as heroes ... You're not heroes, no longer."
"My goodness," remarks Amesqua, the city's fire chief since 1996, after listening to a recording of McKenna's remarks (see "Filthy Firefighters" mp3). "It's always discouraging when political discourse is reduced to name-calling. It's really unfair that this radio host has chosen to target our firefighters and our paramedics."
Amesqua says her department's consists of "absolutely phenomenal people" who, as far as she knows, have not done anything to deserve such withering condemnation. She says she's gotten no complaints from anyone about the conduct of firefighters at this or any other rally.
McKenna, on her show, also ripped Madison police, whom she said "stood idly by ... while our folks were harassed and pushed around …while vandalism took place, and harassment took place, and people were unable to just walk a path."
But her primary target was firefighters. She referred to "union thug intimidators sent there by the firefighters union in Madison" and "Unionistas sent there by the firefighters of Madison, Wisconsin..." (see "Blame the Firefighters" mp3) and nonsensically claimed that, at last Saturday's protests, "the face of the enemy was run by the Madison firefighters union" (see "Battle for Soul" mp3).
Joe Conway, president of Madison Firefighters Local 311, says he doesn't know what McKenna is talking about. Last Saturday's counter-rally, he says, was organized not by Local 311 but by the group Wisconsin Wave. And while the local did put a notice of the event on its website, Conway says it's presence at the rally was nominal -- about eight firefighters and six other people, like friends and family members.
"We went to the State Street side for the counter-rally," says Conway, not the King Street side where the tea partiers held their rally. (Curiously, given McKenna's complaints about incivility, the tea party speakers included blogger Andrew Breitbart telling the counter-protesters to "Go to hell" and McKenna herself telling them to "Shut up!")
Conway recalls that more than a decade ago, when several firefighters were implicated in drug activity in connection with a Madison drug bar called Jockos, there were some disparaging comments made about firefighters. But he says that was an isolated instance, and the comments were nowhere near as "vile" as he's heard in recent weeks, as firefighters have taken an active role in anti-Walker protests.
Chief Amesqua, meanwhile, is equally stunned by McKenna's tirade: "I don't believe it has any truthfulness to it."