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Should flags be at half-staff?

I met a nice guy today by the name of Jerry Johnson. He says he is a retired firefighter from South Florida.

Needless to say, he was moved by the terrible tragedy that took the lives of 19 firefighters in Arizona on Sunday. Johnson is suggesting that businesses and others with American flags out front lower them to half staff in honor of the fallen firefighters.

"It's probably the worst disaster like this since 1933," he told me. Twenty-nine firefighters were killed in a blaze in Southern California's Griffith Park that year. Of course, 341 firefighters lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.

Johnson says he knows many people will be compelled to put up flags for the Fourth of July; he just suggests those with flag poles lower the flags in honor of those "hot shots."

I haven't seen any official proclamation or suggestion that we do so. I know there is very specific protocol for lowering the flag, for instance, to mark the death of a president. Perhaps proper authorities have already made the suggestion.

Thanks for the thought, Jerry.


As a neighbor of Arizona and a state which received the help of that same AZ unit among others, the governor of New Mexico ordered flags at half staff from July 2-5. = Web Link = I think CA should follow suit.

My flag doesn't go half mast but I'll put it up at any rate, for the 4th and for the firefighters. Good topic, Clay.

Half staff is the proper terminology for U.S., unless you're aboard a water-going vessel. The CA governor has no jurisdiction to call for U.S. flags to be at half staff for something outside the state. The president of the U.S. would have to make the call. Also, it can be lumped under this wiki:

"On October 16, 2001, President George W. Bush approved legislation requiring the United States flag to be lowered to half-staff on all Federal buildings to memorialize fallen firefighters. Pub.L. 107–51 requires this action to occur annually in conjunction with observance of the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service.[38] The date of the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service is traditionally the first Sunday in October. It is held at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, MD.[39]"

I don't know the answer either, so I looked online. Here are a few answers...

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

Apparently the short answer to the question is no. We can only fly a flag at half mast if ordered by the President or state governor.

Personally, I would like to see this order given in honor of that Hot Shot team, but it has apparently not been ordered at this time. Maybe when Obama gets home he might consider it. This was tryly a tragedy that could just as easily have happened here in California or even here on the Coastside. The summer is young, and the danger is very high...

There's a national day for that...

Searching for "when to fly the flag at half staff" returns a long list of references with more information, including a few automatic instances such as the death of certain government officials. In terms of true heroes such as those firefighters, i would give them far more respect than many current members of Congress for their service to the people and selfless performance in the line of duty.

The governor has asked that capitol flags be flown at half staff: Web Link, but I don't know what that means for the remainder of the state.

Also, the flag code seems to suggest that the governor is very restricted in lowering to half staff : "In the event of the death of a present or former official of the government of any State, territory, or possession of the United States, or the death of a member of the Armed Forces from any State, territory, or possession who dies while serving on active duty, the Governor of that State, territory, or possession may proclaim that the National flag shall be flown at half-staff"

I'm a strong supporter of any effort to honor the sacrifice of those who protect others. I also believe that we should be very careful to protect the meaning and value of our flag.

There are a lot of ways to express our appreciation for the men and women that keep our community safe. And there are many ways to support the families of the 19 firefighters lost in Arizona on Sunday: Web Link

I think that we should fly our flag at half staff to honor the loss of nineteen fire fighters who died in service to their community. Any time we lose someone in service to us, it is a tragedy. I think losing 19 folks at once is so tragic that special recognition is very appropriate and consistent with precedent. Clay, that's my take.

Personally, I totally agree. But I read over a dozen online references on the issue that made it really clear that doing so required a declaration by the state's governor or the President. I was surprised to see that the requirements were so specific. The actual code lists who can be the subject of the declaration or who gets an automatic flag lowering response and for exactly how long, yet actual practice has increased the use of the declaration to the discretion of the governor or President. In no case, however, was it considered OK for someone to make the decision on their own. I included only 3 links above, because TA limits the number of links that can be in a post. There are hundreds of hits on a web search on the topic, however.

I would sign ampetition asking the President to make such a declaration in a heartbeat!

"The date of the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service is traditionally the first Sunday in October. It is held at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, MD"

Please do not make the unilateral decision to lower your U.S. flag to half staff for the Arizona firefighters. Mr. Obama can make that call, you (or the CA governor) cannot.

Email your request to:



Mr. Gruver, I will do with my flag what the hell I please. If you wish to object you can come over and we can have a discussion as to what I can do.

Thank you for your unrequested directions.

Here is some information from the "Flag Code" dealing with this specific situation:

"•Private citizens and non government buildings may choose to fly their flags at half staff to honor more local leaders. The Flag Code does not exclude any citizen, whether they belong to an organization or not, whether they are recognized very locally or regionally. Examples of deceased citizens that might be honored with by lowering the Flag to half-staff include local religious leaders, youth leaders, honored teachers or sports coaches, local politicians, or a local hero. There need be no authorization from the government for the private sector (non-government) to use the Flag to honor any citizen.

•It is important to note that the Flag Code is a code, it is intended to provide guidance and is not obligatory. It carries no civil or criminal penalties for "misuse" of the Flag. Individual are not acting illegally when using the Flag according to their own usage. Only on government / public building is the flag code required to be followed."

Read more: Web Link

Who does not want to follow the guidelines especially as it relates to the flag, our national identity. But I think that this is a situation where it is appropriate to do it and to apologize later should there in fact be an official protest.

I bow to pressure... but not to BB... note the "local" in that piece of code you relate... Arizona is not local.

You want to lower your flag because your Lhasa Apso died? Enjoy!

About a year or so ago I was shocked to see a US flag displayed upside down on Highway 92. I finally figured out it was a political "distress" signal (hint- displayed with a yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flag) and not a statement against the US. I don't think Obama would OK that particular display, lol.

Sorry I am late to this discussion but I try not to read TA too much.

I too have been pondering these same questions recently. I also am curious as to what is the correct phrasing "half-mast" or half-staff?

The problem with people doing whatever they want with their flags is that it lessens the true meaning of lowering the flag. Of course we all feel the utmost sympathy for the fallen, brave hero firefighters, but as I drove down the highway from Montara, half of the flags were up and half were at half-staff/mast. I was very confused.

If we don't let our presidents decide what is truly a national tragedy (9/11) then we will all get headaches trying to figure out if the flag should be up or down. Do what you want with your own flag, but at Federal and State buildings it needs to be consistent. If federal buildings, schools, hardware stores, RV parks lower their flags at a whim, it means nothing.

The correct term is "half staff," though in common usage people tend to use the word "mast."

My knee jerk reaction when Clay posed the question was that it's OK to lower the flag. But then I did an online search, and all the "official" type sources spelled out who can so decree, namely the President of a state governor for an event in that state. I looked at a lot of "hits" on the question and nearly all were unanimous. We certainly all do want to honor those firefighters, but at the same time, i think we should honor the flag code and rules that have been established over many years. There is so little remaining of the protocols and courtesies I was taught relating to our flag, that I would be reluctant to oppose what's left. Today we see flags cut into shirts, dragging on the ground, worn as shawls, etc., which would have been unheard of when I was in school.

Flags left to rot bug me. So does any clothing meant to resemble the flag: -- Web Link

There is a business in Montara that regularly displays four flags.

The flag that is the lowest of the four - the flag afforded the least respect and honor - is the American flag.

I think that's illegal, and it certainly violates every protocol out there. The position of flags relative to each other iw well spelled out. I would also question the motive for doing that... (If it is to lower the flag to honor someone, that does ot change the relative position of flags displayed with the American flag.)

Nope. Flag protocol says to lower all your flags lower than the half-staff U.S. flag.

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