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Minn. city joins others in changing flag policy for fallen first responders

After the LODDs in Burnsville, Bayport officials agreed to first responders asking for the lowering of the U.S. flag for future statewide mourning


A giant American flag hung between two ladder trucks ahead of a memorial service for Burnsville police officers Paul Elmstrand, 27, Matthew Ruge, 27, and firefighter-paramedic Adam Finseth, 40 at Grace Church.

Anthony Souffle, Star Tribune/TNS

By Matt McKinney
Star Tribune

BAYPORT, Minn. — The city of Bayport will lower flags to half-staff for statewide days of mourning in addition to national ones, joining more cities in Washington County that recognize both. The change was prompted by the tragedy in Burnsville last month that took the lives of three first responders.

“We felt it is important to honor these local events as well,” said Mayor Michele Hanson, who along with the other members of the City Council said she’d like to make the change permanent.

The city formerly lowered the U.S. flag only when the president ordered it for days of national mourning, such as Memorial Day, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor or the deaths of prominent leaders. That was the original protocol going back to the 1954 proclamation by President Dwight Eisenhower that outlines the protocol for lowering the U.S. flag.

After the shooting deaths of Burnsville police officers Matthew Ruge and Paul Elmstrand and firefighter-paramedic Adam Finseth, police officers and firefighters in Bayport asked that the city’s 13 U.S. flags be lowered out of respect, said City Administrator Matthew Kline. The flags were lowered, but Kline took it a step further and researched the city’s protocols to figure out why some cities lowered flags for statewide days of mourning and others, such as Bayport, did not.

One consideration was that the U.S. flag, being a national symbol, should fly at half-mast only when the president orders it, said Kline. But many cities follow the governor’s orders as well as the president’s, including cities near Bayport including Stillwater, Lakeland, Oak Park Heights, Woodbury and Afton.

The City Council reached consensus during a March 4 workshop session on recognizing statewide days of mourning. The policy takes effect immediately. Kline said no vote was taken on the policy change, but if city staff deems it necessary, a formal vote can be scheduled.

It came down to a simple idea: “I support the decision and feel strongly that it should be lowered whenever a police officer, firefighter, correctional officer or paramedic is killed in the line of duty,” said Bayport Police Chief Jay Jackson.

Eisenhower’s proclamation spells out when and for how long the flag should be lowered, from 30 days for the death of a U.S. president to fewer days for the deaths of other high-ranking federal officials, as well as certain significant days such as Peace Officers Memorial Day ( May 15 ) and September 11. The president may also order flags flown at half-staff for tragic events.

Last year, for example, President Joe Biden ordered the flag lowered 10 times for reasons including the deaths of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor; several memorial days; and to mark victims in three mass shootings: one in Nashville, one in Allen, Texas, and a third in Lewiston, Maine.

The Minnesota governor typically orders flags flown at half-staff whenever the president does, plus days of local mourning such as a first responder’s death.

Gov. Tim Walz ordered flags lowered 17 times last year, including for the death of former Gov. Al Quie; for Maj. Jeffrey T. Hoernemann, a Minnesotan killed in a training flight near Yakushima, Japan; Sgt. Cade Michael Wolfe, a Minnesotan killed in a helicopter crash over the Mediterranean Sea ; Minnesota National Guard Sgt. and Fargo police officer Jake Wallin, who was shot by a gunman; and Pope County Sheriff’s Deputy Joshua Owen , who was shot while responding to a domestic violence call.

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