The T-shirt shows Fire Engine 45 surrounded by figures with baggy clothing, a pit bull, a tamale stand, with a caption that reads: "There goes the neighborhood," with "Rancho Santa Ana" written on top.
The controversial T-shirt was designed by off-duty firefighters with Orange County Fire Authority Station 45 in Rancho Santa Margarita.
Officials say half of the nearly 30 firefighters came from Santa Ana after OCFA took over Santa Ana's fire services.
"No city wants their image portrayed in a negative light," said Jose Gonzalez, a spokesman for the city of Santa Ana.
OCFA says 60 shirts were made, and a handful were sold among firefighters. The money went to a fund honoring engineer Greg Hennessey who died on duty. His memorial service was held Tuesday. That's why officials said they could not appear on camera.
In a statement, Orange County Fire Authority Chief Keith Richter says he apologizes for what he calls "an insensitive act," and is disappointed in the firefighters' actions.
"The shirts were not intended to be racial or derogatory toward any ethnic group, city or community. They were made to bring some of their culture and history from Santa Ana with them to Rancho Santa Margarita," Richter said in a statement.
The chief explained that each image carries a memory for Santa Ana firefighters. For instance, he says, the chicken was kept as a pet. Tamale vendors would sell to them every day. The "Lil Homies" are figurines commonly sold in Santa Ana and several Santa Ana stations would display them and write names of firefighters who reminded them of a particular figure.
About the firefighters, Richter said: "They are remorseful and sorry that they have caused others to feel uncomfortable or offended."
"The only thing I can say is that we're just pleased that the OCFA investigated the matter and assured us that this will not occur again," said Gonzalez.
Richter said the OCFA is setting up a committee to approve T-shirts before production. The firefighters asked to personally apologize to anyone offended by the shirts.