New Rule: Firefighters Can Look However the Hell They Want

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]

11 thoughts on “New Rule: Firefighters Can Look However the Hell They Want

  1. “as far as interaction with the public goes, firefighters rank pretty high on the virtuousness list.”

    Yes but unfortunately they also rank pretty high on the macho beefcake culture list…whence the internal harrassment issues.

  2. As a nurse, being tattooed is the least of my “clients” worries. I work in an ER, and when people come in having a heart attack, I sure hope they complain about my sleeves.

  3. As quoted, “If you’re working in a customer service job, fine — a grooming standard should absolutely be adhered to.” Why should those in the customer sevrice industry be forced to be pegged into a “grooming standard”? I have worked in security for years and I have a half sleeve and visible piercings as well. I fought up one side and down the other with my employer over it and I was limited to certain areas because of the ‘look’. I must say it only begins there, the Native American officers that had long hair from their traditional roots (where I live, there are many tribes still) was given cruddy jobs as well because the boss didn’t want men with long hair in a nice ritzy office building doing security. There were some older officers that refused to shave their goatees and beards (they were well kept and groomed) and they would get put on night shift and kept from public view as only a short trimmed mustache was allowed (even if the guy looked more professional with a short beard). I quit security after I became sick of it, and I stay privately liscensed now. I also work my primarey job in customer service doing tech support – first for Directv and now for Sprint. Both of these companies were excellent in accepting body modifications and diversity in general. I plan on staying where I’m at for a long time now – mainly because I have good benefits and I won’t waste time anymore on an employer that is cruddy. I know that sounds bad to some degree, but if we continue to let ourselves get bullied and picked on then what will they try to do next? I am at my job to work – to do my job – not to look pretty for my boss and co-workers.

  4. Hi. I work at a large FD on the west coast (not LA). We are also looking at instituting a tattoo policy. There are a few guys with sleeves on the job, and it will suck having to wear long sleeves during the summer months (it regularly gets over 100 degrees). Did I mention we wear wool uniforms? We are not looking forward to this.

    I spoke to a union lawyer about this. Unfortunately, there are limitations on the 1st amendment in the workplace, and we don’t have much recourse.

    The whole thing is silly: our station is in a very bad neighborhood, and many of our clients have gang tattoos on their arms, hands, necks, and occasionally faces. I’m pretty sure a Saint Florian tattoo on some guy’s forearm isn’t going to upset them.

    I am looking forward to the first water rescue I go to after the new “no visible tattoos” policy goes into effect. In only shorts, booties, snorkel and a life vest, I’ll be showing a lot of ink. But then, they can’t order me to wear long sleeves and pants, because that would be a safety issue in the water. So there!

    And in regards to the tattooed LAFD guys being picked on, I would be willing to bet that the media is drumming it up a bit. I’m sure he’s taking it for what it is: a bunch of buddies clowning around and giving each other a hard time. If you have thin skin, you probably won’t do well in the fire service. I’ve had worse done to me (BBW porn hidden in my backpack, gay playing cards hidden in my uniform, and other stuff I daren’t mention here).

    I’ll go back to lurking now. More pictures of girls with tattoos, please.

  5. It always shocks me when people complain about being singled out because they have tattoo’s, if you weren’t prepared for it then you weren’t ready to get tattoo’s and your tattooist failed in his duty of care to make sure you where. Dramatics aside, I love the dog tattoo :)

  6. yeah i can really picture how a tattoo would be a PR nightmare for a fire department…..


    “No worries miss, we’ll have your child out in no time, just please stay calm”

    “oh than…….wait, is that a tattoo? well, i dont want you anywhere near my young impressionable child. go on, you heard me, get lost!”

    “um…but the fire….”

    “no! i dont care! pack your stuff up and get back to your biker gang or whatever your into!”

    yeah can see why they are so worried about it.

  7. Wow, i submitted this a few months ago. Nice to see it somehow made its way up, one way or another lol. Seriously I could care less if a fire fighter is covered in ink. So long as he/she can save lives and be a productive member of society I don’t care what he looks like. Who defines the “unprofessional” ? Is it the people who’s house is on fire when they arrive and say “I’m sorry, I dont want you to save my house, you look very unprofessional”. Some people may not like them but as long as they do their job right, they are ok in my book.

  8. “Image” has dick to do with courage and lifesaving skills. As far as looking professional…I’d rather someone BE a professional when it comes to saving my life and property, whether that person is inked or not is beside the point. If they want someone who simply portrays an image they can hire an untattooed beefcake model and dress him in a fireman’s uniform and take all the promo pics they want.
    When there’s a fire they’d better send the real heroes in.

  9. Growing up around fire fighters, I can say Im not in the least bit surprised by the harrasament. Sounds about right from what I saw, except most of the stuff I saw was sexist and/or racist. No offense, but most of those guys are out were just grown up children.

  10. I’m in Emergency Med Services (A lot of medics are firefighters, vice versa), and I hope I don’t encounter this much stupidity being a tattooed woman in the job. Jeez.

  11. Pingback: BME: Tattoo, Piercing and Body Modification News » ModBlog » Full Coverage: Links From All Over (Oct. 23, 2008)

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