The Ringling Bros. elephants (which Peta just caught on film being beaten by employees) are at the center of another controversy. Reportedly a Brooklyn Fire Dept. (Engine 245) had to close its firehouse for 30 minutes under city orders to bathe Suzie the elephant. The department says they wanted no part in the press event, saying, "What they did compromised that community; fortunately no one was hurt. Whoever at city hall decided to do this doesn't understand public safety and doesn't understand the role that firefighters play in public safety."

City Hall claims they were not ordered to close the station down, but merely to spray the animal as it walked by. NYMag has a statement from the firefighters union, saying, "Members of Engine 245 were originally asked to participate in this publicity stunt for Ringling Brothers Circus but declined. The request then rose up the chain of command to the Chief of Department, who also reportedly said no. Firefighters were told that officials at New York City Hall stepped in to order the fire company closed and ordered all on duty FDNY firefighters in the company to participate. The fire company was shut down and taken out of service for approximately 30 minutes while providing the pachyderm bath for Suzie the Circus Elephant."

With the way their track record is looking this year, we might as well just blame Ringling Bros. for the 9/11-Tsunami ad at this point.

UPDATE: Peta has given New York's Engine 245 an award for their efforts. Their full statement can be read below.

PETA has given its Compassionate Fire Department Award to New York's Engine 245 for striving to maintain the highest standards of professionalism. Despite repeated refusals to participate in a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus elephant-washing publicity stunt, the engine company's on-duty firefighters were ordered by city officials to give a bath to Suzie, one of the elephants used by the circus. The firehouse was taken out of service and was unavailable to respond to emergencies for at least half an hour. "It compromised public safety and firefighters' safety for public relations," Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York President Steve Cassidy told news sources.

Public pachyderm baths can't wash away Ringling's deplorable treatment of elephants. PETA's recent undercover investigation documented that Ringling elephant handlers hit elephants with bullhooks over and over on their heads, trunks, ears, and other sensitive body parts right before the animals walked on stage. Ringling owner Kennth Feld recently gave testimony to answer charges that the circus's elephant-handling practices violate the federal Endangered Species Act; in that testimony, he admitted that elephants are routinely hit with bullhooks.

"Engine 245 is to be commended for resisting an order that put New Yorkers' safety at risk so that a for-profit, privately owned business could garner free publicity," says PETA Director Debbie Leahy. "Residents should be outraged that city officials apparently care more about coddling cruel corporations such as Ringling than they do about protecting the taxpaying citizens of New York. Ringling makes money by beating animals and forcing them to perform, so it can afford to buy its own advertising like any other business."