While I think it’s silly for most employers to take a hard and fast oppositional approach to modified employees, I’m on record as saying that it’s their choice and that, in arenas such as the military where decorum and obedience are of the utmost importance, even arbitrary enforcement of anti-modification rules seems in line with their power structures. (Even if tattoos and tattoo culture seem indelibly linked to many branches of the military, but alas.)
With all that said, leave the damn firefighters alone. In June, L.A. Times columnist Sandy Banks wrote about the Los Angeles Fire Department’s new policy that firefighters must not have any visible tattoos, either while on call or while in the firehouse:
It’s a “grooming issue,” said Capt. Armando Hogan, spokesman for Chief Douglas Barry. “We need to make sure we’re professional-looking. We’ve got an image to uphold.”
This is a department that recently cost the city $16 million in payoffs to firefighters who’ve been insulted, harassed and discriminated against on the job. [Ed. Note: Emphasis mine.] And they’re worried that people will think they’re unprofessional because a guy has his kids’ names inked on his arm or flames crawling up his neck?
You know what? If you’re working in a customer service job, fine — a grooming standard should absolutely be adhered to. But firefighters? If you’re coming into contact with a firefighter, it’s probably because they’re saving your life, saving your house, or saving someone you know or love. If the barista’s forehead tattoo is a turn-off, understandable, but is anyone seriously going to file a complaint that the guy showing up at 4 a.m. to put out a fire had some visible kanji?
Well, it seems like things are getting worse in L.A. Dan Stark, a heavily tattooed eight-year veteran of the department, has been the butt of some idiotic harassment as of late. Banks gives an update:
The day the policy took effect in April, he said someone left a copy of the edict on his station’s kitchen table, next to a photo of a group of shrouded Muslim women, labeled with the names of five firefighters — including him — who are heavily tattooed.
Then he found his station locker covered with copies of the policy, he said. That meant someone had broken into it, or used the spare key kept in the captain’s dorm. Later that day, he said, someone drew a picture of a mummy and captioned it “Stark’s new uniform.”
When he complained about the ribbing, one captain told him to quit griping and be a team player, he said. Another suggested he get some tattoos removed, as a sort of goodwill gesture. Another official said he risked ruining his career if he kept complaining. None apparently forwarded his complaints up the chain of command.
So … that’s pretty great. To recap: Fire department is exposed for abuse, hazing, etc., and revamps its policies to ensure proper treatment of its firefighters. Another new policy is put into place to prohibit visible tattoos on firefighters in the same department. Tattooed firefighters start getting shit from non-tattooed ones. Nobody does anything.
As Banks points out, the real issue here isn’t tattoos, though that serves as a microcosm of the glaring hypocrisy of an organization that has apparently done nothing to combat its internal problems. But again, of all professions, as far as interaction with the public goes, firefighters rank pretty high on the virtuousness list. The ways in which corruption can manifest out are few, and they’re pretty much just there to save our asses and occasionally pose shirtless for hunky calendars. If any profession deserves to be cut some slack on this front, it’s probably them.
Los Angeles Fire Department tattoo coverup muddles real mission, Discomfort over L.A. Fire Department’s tattoo policy is more than skin deep [Los Angeles Times]
Firefighter Tattoos [Strike The Box]