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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Local firefighters union tweet goes viral encouraging mask wearing

The firefighters union from Spokane County Fire District 8 replied to an anti-mask tweet and received thousands of positive responses Tuesday on Twitter.  (Spokane Co.FD8 Firefighters)

A Spokane County firefighters union pushed back against conservative commentator Tomi Lahren’s snarky post about mask wearing Tuesday, receiving thousands of likes on Twitter.

The tweet by a firefighters union from Spokane County Fire District 8, which operates four stations covering a large area south of Spokane and Spokane Valley, was a response to Lahren making fun of a Joe Biden campaign video showing the former vice president donning a mask while President Donald Trump removed his mask.

Lahren wrote, “Might as well carry a purse with that mask, Joe.”

Firefighters replied with their own tweet: “As we do one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. We’d carry a purse to if it meant keeping our community safe.”

Union President Jay Wilkins, who composed the tweet that now has nearly 18,000 likes and nearly 4,000 retweets, said he was surprised at the public reaction.

“It was a funny reply but also kind of a little bit of, ‘Hey, you know, we’ll wear a purse, we’ll do whatever it takes to make our community better,’ ” Wilkins said. “We’re the fire department; that’s what we do. We come together to solve problems … in this case it takes wearing a mask.”

Wilkins said the tweet was not meant to be political nor was it supposed to represent the fire district.

“This is not a fire district-sanctioned political campaign. This was more of a union endeavor, if you will,” Wilkins said. “It wasn’t supposed to be political, but it turned out that way.”

Wilkins said the union has been using social media for years to engage with the community members and show them behind the scenes of life as a firefighter.

“For us, the most important reason to have a social media presence is it gives folks a peek to what we do,” Wilkins said. “It’s a way to engage the community because we know where they are – they’re behind their phones. So it’s a great way to meet folks.”

Normally, the firefighters share videos of training, pictures from wildfires they are fighting and photos of their fire trucks.

After writing the tweet, Wilkins said he went into his biweekly COVID-19 operations meeting. An hour later, he looked at his phone and said, “Oh, wow.”

There were a variety of responses in the more than 400 replies to the tweet. Many called the firefighters “patriotic” or touted their “solid sense of humor in hard times.”

Others were critical of the firefighters touching on politics, Wilkins said. And many people corrected Wilkins’ grammar.

“All I could see is every teacher I’ve ever had shaking their heads at me,” Wilkins said of using the wrong form of the word “too.”

But it was a chance for that sense of humor, which Wilkins said he and his fellow firefighters share, to shine.

“We can laugh at ourselves, too,” Wilkins said. “A little sense of humor goes a long way.”

Ultimately, Wilkins and his fellow firefighters hope the tweet encourages people to follow public health guidelines, something they promote on and off social media.

“When we’re out and about and we see folks … we really encourage people to wear masks,” Wilkins said.

Even on social media, Wilkins said they make a point to share photos in proper personal protective equipment and share relevant information from Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz.

While Wilkins acknowledges the past few months have been difficult in dealing with COVID-19 professionally and personally, he said it’s a chance to show leadership.

“We have to be leaders in our community,” Wilkins said. “I think one of the best ways to be a leader is to follow the science and our local leadership.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify that the tweet came from unionized firefighters who work at Spokane County Fire District 8. The twitter account is not Fire District 8’s official account.