The bone of contention is whether in fact he had a “sour” expression on his face when weighing whether to don the hat. You can judge for yourself by watching the video, but for the record the chief says the visit was perfectly friendly and no offense was taken:
Unlike Simon’s characterization of a “sour” Thompson, McKenzie recalled that the firefighters were joking with the Thompsons during the visit, which corroborates the CBS News video that captured part of the event. He stated further than any attempt to portray the event as Simon described was the work of “someone who had their own agenda.”
Unprompted, McKenzie stated that he was well aware of the dangers of politicians wearing hats, and he and his fellow firefighters understood why Thompson declined to wear the helmet. He also stated that he understood that someone might want to make an issue of Thompson wearing his helmet, and that it seemed that when Thompson declined, “someone decided to make an issue out of it anyway.”
Chief McKenzie concluded that the Waverly firemen was very appreciative of Thompson’s visit, as they would be of any presidential candidate that took the time to stop by.
Bob also hints that Politico might have misquoted the newspaper editor interviewed for the same piece, although there seems to be no evidence for that beyond her declining to comment when asked about it.
Update: Here’s a transcript of Fred’s private interview with the newspaper editor and a brief account of the visit to the firehouse. The fire chief appears to be something of a Fredhead: “He seems very personable. I think the message he’s trying to get out is consistent with some of my views.”