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Waterville fire chief says firefighter's apparent ‘white power’ hand gesture was due to injury, not racially charged

Esler had called the hand gesture, known to be associated with white power, “completely unacceptable” on Thursday.

WATERVILLE, Maine — Waterville Fire Chief Shawn Esler said Friday that a firefighter accused of making a 'white power' hand gesture in the official department photo was unknowingly making the gesture due to a hand injury.

In a statement, Esler said the firefighter's gesture was a direct result of an injury to his hand, which he said he received earlier in the day while conducting "intensive hands-on training with self-contained breathing apparatus."

"There was absolutely no reason to believe our firefighter possessed any hatred or tyrannical white power motivation with this photograph," Esler said Friday. "We have also confirmed with our police department that there is no reason to suspect a crime has been committed."

Credit: BDN screenshot from Waterville Fire Department Facebook
Bangor, Maine -- Jan. 16, 2020 -- A Waterville fire department photo where a firefighter can be seen making a hand gesture associated with white power.

Esler had called the hand gesture, known to be associated with white power, “completely unacceptable” on Thursday. The picture had been used as the cover photo for the department’s Facebook page since Tuesday.

RELATED: Waterville fire chief to investigate firefighter's apparent ‘white power’ hand gesture in department photo

The fire department removed it after the Bangor Daily News (BDN) asked about the firefighter’s hand gesture — an “OK” sign that has been listed as a symbol of hate.

“If I find that it was associated with any kind of hate crime whatsoever, I will be disciplining said individual to the fullest extent of my power and turning it over to the police for further review,” Esler told the BDN Thursday. 

On Friday, Esler said that had any evidence surfaced to support an allegation of white supremacy or racial bias, the organization would condemn such acts.

"In summary, a firefighter was injured during routine training, not a joke, horseplay, or extremist intent," Esler said. 

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