BRISTOL, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A mayor who had banned firefighters from wearing pink T-shirts for breast cancer awareness reversed his position Thursday, saying the controversy stirred by a public outcry was becoming bigger than the cause.

Bristol Mayor Arthur Ward, who has had a contentious relationship with the firefighters’ union, said at a news conference that he will allow firefighters to wear the pink shirts on the job for the remainder of October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

“I’ve reflected on this repeatedly and I have decided that I will not allow this controversy to become more important than the cause,” said Ward, whose mother died from breast cancer.

In opposing the firefighters’ requests, Ward noted the city already supports the United Way and had argued that if union members were allowed to wear pink shirts this month, they could ask later to wear different colors for a range of causes. He pointed to a line in the contract mandating that firefighters wear blue uniform shirts.

At a city council meeting Tuesday night, cancer survivors and other residents urged the mayor to change his position. A protest rally had been planned for later Thursday.

The T-shirt campaign is endorsed by the International Association of Fire Fighters and features a best T-shirt contest for all participating departments across the country, according to the group’s website.

In addition to the national effort, several other fire departments across the state are participating in the pink T-shirt campaign for the month.

Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said all 34 Ridgefield firefighters are on board with the pink T-shirts, saying it is another way the firefighters give back to the community.

“It’s important to bring awareness to people every day and that’s what we’re hoping that we achieve by allowing the firemen to wear the pink shirts,” Marconi said Wednesday.

A Bristol firefighter whose aunt is a two-time breast cancer survivor designed the pink shirts.

The union president, Sean Lennon, said the dispute has had the benefit of raising awareness of the firefighters’ efforts. What had been planned as an internal fundraiser for members, he said, has become much bigger. The union has sold more than 500 T-shirts and is being overwhelmed by requests from around the country.

Ward said he was encouraging the union to expand the fundraiser to include all city residents.

The firefighters will wear the pink shirts each Thursday in October.

(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Watch & Listen LIVE