How's it? I'm looking for some feedback on what different departments' policies are on wearing class B shirts versus uniform t shirts on calls. I worked for a different fire department for 6 years which had a policy that made sense to me, where we could wear uniform t shirts while responding to all calls, specifically medical calls, but would wear our class B shirts when interacting with the public at schools, for PR events, or while in class room training sessions.
My current department has a hard-line policy that button-up class B shirts are to be worn in all cases, with the exception of removing them when putting on full turnouts for fires or MVAs. My biggest issue is that we look like police officers in our button up shirts, and I feel it can negatively impact our safety on scene as well as be detrimental to some of our patient/care provider relationships. I've tried to make a case from the safety standpoint that we make ourselves targets when we look like officers (with personal experiences of patients and other people on scene mistaking me for an officer even when we've been in the back of the ambulance providing care or carrying EMS equipment).
The current response is for us to add a part of our PPE, whether it's a turnout coat or fire helmet, to help identify ourselves as Fire/EMS. I really don't like that for a couple of reasons. First, as a medic, the turnout coat hinders my ability to start lines or intubate. The helmet can do the same, and I end up removing both ASAP when initiating patient care. Second, in the summer, it can be over 110 degrees, and I don't like having to add an unnecessary layer or piece of equipment when removing my class B shirt will identify me just as easily (our t shirt has a big reflective "FIRE" printed on the back, and our department logo on the front.)
Additional benefits of t shirts over class Bs, in my opinion are that they are easier to launder and cheaper to throw away if I get contaminants on them (there's only so much blood or vomit I'm willing to try to remove before the whole shirt is gonna get scrapped). Most of my department sleeps in their T shirts currently, but we have to waste time at night to put on our class B shirts when responding to calls after we've hit the rack. There's always an emphasis on response times and it seems like a no-brainer to not require shirts at night when they make us even more mistakable as cops as well as slow down our response times.
Any one else have these issues or successfully get policy changed? It seems like the brass has placed form firmly over function in this instance & it's frustrating. I'm generally all for supporting the upper chain of command, and feel like I have made a good personal effort to support and improve my new department (3 years on the job here), but would love to see a more functional policy put in place. I agree that we should look professional, but feel like that concept should fit the situation. Sharp looking uniform t shirts can look professional to the public when we are on emergency calls, and don't hinder our first priority of personal and crew safety.
My career FD let us wear uniform T-shirts and sweatshirts for training and calls. Class B uniform shirts had to be worn for inspecting, pre-planning, PR events and so on.
During the time of year we could wear shorts, if you wore shorts you also had to wear a polo shirt.
All the departments that I have been on in the last 9 years have always said between 8-5 7 days a week they wanted us in our blue button up shirts any other times we could wear just our dept t shirt or polo. This being the case since the fire station is a public building and the public could stop in at any time that we are there to look around or anytime we are out and about gave a look of professionalism.
I'm in complete agreement with you. My department has a policy very similar to yours, with the only exception being that we can wear polo style uniform shirts with the embroidered department emblem during the spring, summer, and fall. For now, you just have to "roll with it" until a new administration recognizes a need for a change. Retired Chief Alan Brunacini said that there's 2 things the public remembers when we respond to their emergency: Did we fix their problem? And were we nice?" Air Force Firefighters wear combat BDUs on duty, some have authorized department t-shirts. A good well-kept department t-shirt looks very professional in our line of work.
SOG- Maintained and clean uniform at all times unless performing maintenance, training or wearing turnouts.
Sorry if you don't agree with your employer that you should wear a uniform. I am sure there are many others who would take your place and be proud to wear it, especially for those who had to work so hard to get items like a uniform in the first place (going back many years now!).
A quality polo shirt with dept. crest would be an acceptable alternative during certain times of the season but T-shirts are best left for under turnouts as they fade, pill and look rumpled.
If you really want to change this Carson, you will need your Captain and Senior members to get on board. As a newer member to that organization you will need the backing of the senior members to add credibility, given the topic as there are probably more pressing issues before your Chief Officers.
Be safe, stay well.
Firemedic Rob said:
"Sorry if you don't agree with your employer that you should wear a uniform. I am sure there are many others who would take your place and be proud to wear it, especially for those who had to work so hard to get items like a uniform in the first place (going back many years now!)."
Kinda harsh, but OK. Disagreeing with my department's policies does not mean that either I don't follow those policies or that I don't appreciate my job.
I was a member of the Honor Guard on my old department, as well as a member of the only active BSA Honor Guard while I was a Boy Scout. I'm all for looking sharp and professional. It's not that I'm not proud to wear my department's uniform. I felt like I was clear in my original post when I said my concerns are about the way we present ourselves at emergency scenes due to safety concerns.
Again, with my old department, we would wear our Class B button-up shirts when we were doing PR events such as presentations at schools, station tours, when we were in classroom training situations, or other non-emergency events, but our standard uniform of the day was our uniform T-shirts with appropriate FD logos including our names and rank on the front. Captains were able to tell anyone at any time that their uniform T-shirt was below standards and have them trash it in exchange for a new one. The T-shirts we wore had a very long life; I still have old shirts from 6 years ago that would be acceptable to wear on my old department.
As far as my captains and senior members being on board, I don't feel I would be exaggerating when I say that I have yet to speak to anyone under the rank of Captain who thinks that class B shirts are a good idea 24/7, and the majority of captains feel likewise (all of the captains on my shift would like to see us go to T-shirts for emergency operations/ running EMS calls in particular.) The disconnect is with our Battalion Chiefs and above.
There are plenty of pressing issues for a department the size of the one I work for. We're behind the national average on staffing, including being short on paramedics, we need equipment updates, and we (like everyone else, I'm sure) could use better funding.
I don't disagree with the need for a uniform, as you stated. I simply have concerns from a safety standpoint (concerns drawn from personal experience) that have led me to seek input from other firefighters in an effort to be better informed and prepared when going to discuss this topic with other members of my fire department.
I'm one of those people who "worked so hard" to get my uniform, so please don't jump to conclusions like that in the future. I'm wasting more effort refuting that point then it's worth, but it seriously hacks me off that you'd make an off-hand comment like that about a fellow firefighter simply because they ask questions about their department's policies... it kind of out-shined the helpful comments that you did make, but then maybe I'm just a hot-head.
For others who have commented previously, thanks for your input. I've read them as you've posted them and am still looking to gather feedback/comments.
I appreciate the follow-ups, and Kyle, I hadn't even read your comments before my last response.
Chief, I've worked on two departments with very different requirements for dress uniforms vs duty uniforms, and have experienced first hand the difference of the public interacting with us when they believe that we're cops versus when we're firefighers/EMS. I do agree with you that there are individuals and situations where it doesn't matter what we're wearing, a patient will still be hostile. However, having seen the difference in interaction that a Class B shirt vs a T-shirt will encourage, the risks are not negligible.
In the six years with my former department, I was never called a cop, and never had people withhold information from me that hindered my job because they thought I was a cop (as far as I could perceive). Having been at my current department, I have had multiple civilians, patients, bystanders and even healthcare workers mistake me for a police officer, at times to my detriment.
In my personal experience, a junkie is much less forthcoming when they perceive you're an officer, versus when it's clear you're a firefighter, even when you're in the back of an ambulance. I've had multiple experiences where dispatch has given us a bad address because of a mistake on the caller's part, and knocked on or walked into the wrong home in the middle of the night. My interactions with homeowners when I was dressed in Class B shirts was very different that when I was in a department issued T-shirt.
All I can tell you is what I've experienced between the two departments, and I've experienced much more hostility and mistaken identity in this smaller, much more peaceful community wearing a Class-B shirt, then I did at my much more urban department wearing a T-shirt, where I worked for six years.
I do appreciate the professionalism in your replies (both Chief & Kyle), but my experience has led me to believe that we create an unnecessary risk for ourselves when we wear Class-B shirts as part of our daily uniforms. I would personally settle for an agreement that we wear Class-Bs during traditional business hours, and switch to T-shirts in the evenings when darker conditions make it even easier to mistake us for officers. I don't feel that the argument that "we look better" is worth overlooking an avoidable safety hazard. I don't think traffic vests look professional, but they increase safety, so I have no gripes about throwing one on when I work around traffic. Likewise I'd prefer to increase my visibility as a firefighter and not a cop.
As has been pointed out, and I hope as would be implied, I always abide by the SOGs and wishes of my superiors, but it doesn't mean I have to agree, or that I shouldn't try to change what I can, if there might be a better way to do business. I've penned a letter to my department's safety committee, but imagine it will be met with as much enthusiasm as you have had for the idea, Chief. I'll update as things progress. Our profession began in ties and dress jackets, and for very good reasons, moved away from them in favor of more functional attire. I feel like moving from Class-Bs to Tshirts in some circumstances would be another prudent move and healthy for the fire service as a whole in these times of increased hostility against our brothers in blue. We should take the opportunity to distinguish ourselves from armed personnel to increase our own safety on scene, and allow those who would recognize that we are not law enforcement officers to be put at ease and more open when speaking with us.
Good luck in your endeavors, but be prepared for a let down. I happen to chair our health and safety committee here and if such an issue were to be addressed here, i could likely tell you the response I would get. I'm willing to bet that your own H/S committee will face a similar issue and the reality is that it comes down to documentation and direct impact. The policy is what it is and it will take more than just "in my last dept" stuff to illicit change. What you are going to need is direct issues where your (or co-workers) safety was at issue because of the uniform. If you don't have that, you should be ready to show stats of how people are more open to providing details etc to someone in a T-shirt as opposed to Class B etc.
I'm not saying the issue is useless to pursue, but saying it helps to have documentation and validation on your side. Documentation from your dept aspect, validation from others and quite frankly, validation may be tougher to come by. The reason I say that is because validation can really vary. There are depts that allow T-shirts after say 5pm, etc, does this have to do with a safety aspect or not? Hard to say.
I happen to come from a dept that when I started we had Class B's. I actually liked them when I started, they were light blue compared to the Navy Blue of the PD. We didn't wear badges, but we wore the Class B's for pub ed, inspections, service calls etc. After 5pm we could wear T-shirts or sweatshirsts. On emergency calls we wore whatever the hell we had on.
A few years later we had a management change and the chief wanted us to wear a collared shirt at all times. We switched the Class B's to polos then, but still had to have a collared shirt. I recall a call recently after said order and FF's being what they are....the crew had (I solemnly swear) one guy with a polo, one with a collared job shirt, one with an older T-shirt and one with a commerative T-shirt....and a crewman asked the pt if they noticed anything different and the pt said no.
Today, we had another recent mgmt change. We still wear the polos, but now from hours of 7-5 and t-shirts OK for after hours. I honestly can not say that the fact that we had on a different shirt dissuaded us from doing our job or put us at any more undue risk. Those that choose not to give us all info on a med call is par for the course......so what. We also get people legitimately calling who choose not to give us all info because they believe the hospital has everything. I've had people withhold info a number of times, but can't say definitively it was because of the uniform.
Quite frankly, I doubt the uniform has much to do with things. People will be dicks if they so choose. In todays world, especially with the lack of respect for PD, sure it can make thing a bit harrier, but can one definitively say it is because of the uniform? The FD is still an authority position and it may not matter what type of shirt they wear, haters are going to hate.
So again, if you hope to illicit change, get to documentation. I truly would love to help you prove your case, but I can't. Having the agreement to wear T-shirts after 5 was a big triumph and had nothing to do with being mistaken for PD. If this is truely a safety issue, then document.
For those still invested in the discussion, I've been looking for sources about this topic, and thought these were interesting...
The results of the study support my concern that we make ourselves targets to those with a grudge against cops. Medics in Philadelphia wear bullet proof vests while responding to certain types of calls because of this type of situation, and it would only be prudent to expect that first responders in cities like Ferguson, New York and now Pasco, WA are at greater risk due to increased anger toward police officers. When faced with tradition or safety, I'd prefer safety take priority. That's why I support modern fire helmets over traditional helmets. I fully agree that traditional helmets look bad@ss, but they commonly create entanglement hazards due to the hook of the eagles or other ornaments to keep shields in place. (I saw two recruits in my academy tangled together because of those eagles, and have heard that the helmets are a detriment in the self-extrication/wire entanglement props.)
Again, not saying tradition has no value, but I feel like I can present a professional appearance while not wearing a uniform that is so similar to a police officer's at emergency scenes.
...At a glance, it is EXTREMELY easy to misidentify the above uniforms. Both have similar patches, and are the same color. Even the badges are the same style. My current department presents a very similar problem.