McDonald’s did not turn away firefighters
Last updated 8/11/2021 at Noon
Sisters McDonald’s has taken a severe beating in the news and on social media for the past month — for something that did not happen.
A viral Facebook post, amplified by a story run on KTVZ-21, led people across the nation to believe that the local McDonald’s had refused service on July 13 to firefighters battling the Grandview Fire, who were then treated to a steak dinner at another Sisters restaurant. But a timeline and evidence from security cameras, confirmed by Oregon Department of Forestry officials, demonstrates that, as owner Scott Acarregui asserts, “McDonald’s did not at any point refuse service to ANY firefighters.”
He told The Nugget, “We refused service to the general public at times to serve the firefighters. But no firefighter was ever turned away.”
Acting State Forester Nancy Hirsh confirmed that in a statement provided to Acarregui: “I have not seen or heard anything that indicates that your restaurant refused to serve firefighters assigned to the Grandview Fire.”
Acarregui reconstructed a detailed timeline of events backed by camera footage that demonstrates that allegations that firefighters were not served or were turned away were false.
In an interview with The Nugget, David Morris, Oregon Department of Forestry liaison for the Grandview Fire Camp confirmed that Acarregui’s account of events is accurate and explained what appears to have sparked the controversy.
“These were contract firefighters that were not ODF firefighters or municipal firefighters that were coming off their shift,” he said.
They seem to have misperceived the actions McDonald’s staff were taking to accommodate a late evening flurry of activity. One firefighter apparently assumed that the restaurant’s lobby gate was closed. However, Acarregui reported, “The gate was partially open to allow firefighters to come in to be served.”
Acarregui further noted, that, “The shift manager said she was happy to serve them individually but suggested a group order of similar products to make service faster. The firefighters declined and asked if they could order individually. The shift manager said yes, and began taking orders.”
Some firefighters left McDonald’s when they were invited to enjoy a meal at Chops Bistro in Sisters.
“I think, in the big scheme of things, the firefighters who came through had a misunderstanding about what McDonald’s was trying to do to help them,” Morris said. “Their view of it wasn’t accurate. They did not understand what was going on and got frustrated. They were complaining to their wives and girlfriends, who sent out inaccurate information.”
That inaccurate information, posted on Facebook, quickly went viral, and the story was picked up by the local NBC affiliate, KTVZ-21, who ran a story that itself propagated across the country.
The impact was significant.
Initially, calls came in from the local area asking why the alleged incident had occurred, Acarregui said. Then calls turned nasty.
“People were using such inappropriate language to our managers, to our crew people,” said Acarregui, who noted that many crew members are under 18. “Then it started to escalate to the point where we got specific threats to the safety and well-being of our crew.”
A YouTube video containing the Z-21 story has been viewed 1.3 million times. As the story went viral and was picked up by other media, calls started coming in from all over the country.
“Most are just spiteful and inappropriate to my crew,” Acarregui said.
Three employees quit because they felt intimidated or distressed by the harassment. The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office was contacted, and has been providing extra patrol for the security of the restaurant and its employees.
“These people are stressed out,” Acarregui said.
Acarregui, who grew up in the local area, said that he is proud of his team, many of whom have worked for him for a long time.
“We just want to go back to normal,” he said. “I just want my people to feel valued and supported by the community they serve… My employees are busting their butts to take care of everybody… It makes me sad, the way they’ve been treated. They don’t deserve this. No one deserves this.”
He said that his focus currently is on being supportive and “making sure that they understand that they did nothing wrong.”
Morris said that the Sisters McDonald’s has been a good partner with firefighting teams, which makes the incident of July all the more unfortunate.
“McDonald’s of Sisters has been such a huge supporter of the wildfire camps,” Morris said. Dealing with a surge of firefighting crews is challenging, Morris said, and, “McDonald’s has done an extremely good job of it over the years.”
The incident demonstrates how destructive an errant social media post can be.
“It’s very unfortunate that it went as viral as it did,” Morris said.
He said that he encourages members of firefighting teams who have any issue in a community to take it to staff like himself in the fire camp to handle, not to social media.
“We’ll do it in a manner that is fair and respectful to everyone,” he said.
Acarregui said that he understands that one of the Facebook posts that started the firestorm was deleted and its contents retracted by the poster. He said the McDonald’s PR firm is working with Z-21 and “it’s positive and they’re going to make it right.”
However, he recognizes that it is difficult to unwind a social media thread once it’s out in the world.
“Once it’s shared a thousand times or more, you can’t unshare those,” he said.