This is a reply I wrote to a discussion of "piercings". I thought it was worth repeating. You can agree or disagree but if you THINK about what I am saying, I have accomplished my mission. As always, this is my blog & if you don't want to read it, there is a little button there you can push so you can go back to another page & you don't have to read what I am thinking or how I feel about this topic.

******

Yes, I do know about steam burns, from experience. That happened years ago before nomax/pbi, hoods & helmet liners. With the newer equipment we are a lot safer than we once were. Before I had a lot of experience and became a safety officer. With the new neoprene face masks I can get and keep a seal wearing my glasses that I couldn't get with the old style masks. I now have a hood that keeps my neck & ears from being exposed. Oh yeah, when they get wet, which "should" be rare because of all the other protection we have on they can cause problems. But if I'm THAT close to danger, there are likely other things happening as well and I need to decide quickly what I am going to do about it.

I also know, again from experience, that sometimes we push the line a bit too far and things do happen. I am an advocate for interior attack if it is worth the risk. RISK is what I am talking about. This whole issue is about whether the risk is worth the outcome. Sometimes it isn't and you have to admit to that. We think we are superhuman because we have tools and the knowledge that in most circumstances keep us from being hurt & yes it is worth the risk, most of the time. Safety begins with you. You have to decide for yourself what risk you are willing to take. I can't make that decission for you, your officers can't either. No one else can.

Personally, I am not only concerned with MY department but of the "trends" of fire departments everywhere. Some of those provide mutual aid for my department and they deserve the best people they can get as well. The type of people we are seeing in the fire service in this day are much different than in the past. They have to be or we (particularly VFDs) won't survive.

I am also concerned with recruitment of new people into the fire service and being able to retain the ones we have managed to bring in. The numbers of people coming into the fire service on BOTH sides, career and volunteer are dwindling. We need to think about that as well.
"Hey, I am a physically fit 22 yr old man, I think I could be an asset to a VFD but I need to think about this. They have a zero tolerance policy for drugs & alcohol (I AM TOTALLY FOR THIS ONE). I have to take lots of training. I could get hurt. It involves a lot of time and I have to change my originallity because my piercings don't appeal to the professionalism of a job I am not going to get paid to do."

I am NOT saying or advocating going to a call & looking like a bunch of yahoos & idiots. DOING the job in a professional manner & representing your department in the community is important. TRAINING your people to do the job effectively and efficiently is more important than how they look. When you do a good job the community respects your organization as a whole. Most people who care enough to be firefighters realize this. I understand that some don't but they only need to be educated. Then they can decide if it is worth the effort for them.

You have said yourself that "your world" is an upscale community where firefighters drive BMWs & other luxury cars. They have jobs that support those things and are very likely the class/culture of people who aren't into piercings & body art. In my area, cars like that are rare, we drive pick ups & minivans. In your world you may be able to afford to make demands that I can't afford to choose from. In your world, you may feel its ok to put people in situations that I can't approve in mine. I live in a world where the unemployment rate is 7% throughout the state & closer to 10% in my county. Firefighters come & go faster than I get gray hair because of economics & family situations, risks & education, not to mention personalities. I'm not going to turn down a guy with a nose ring who is genuinely interested in the job and who "could" be the one to pull my fat out of the fryer BECAUSE he has a nose ring.

The world is changing. WE have to change with it and become more diverse in our thinking and in how we do things. We have to decide which battles are worth fighting. Which we can/should win & which won't cause an adverse affect in the long run, say 10yrs from now.

The saying "Two hundred years of tradition unempeeded by progress" doesn't just apply to firefighting tactics.

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Comment by Jenny Holderby on November 25, 2008 at 3:24am
I am not saying we have to settle for what we get no matter how low our numbers are. But again, we go through several wannabes to get 2 good fire fighters. I was pretty sure that two of the five men we sent to basic training would not make it through and I was right. Now they have to make the decission as to being "associate members" which is pretty much the same as a Junior member and trying again at some point or leaving the department. I am also almost as positive that two of them will be excellent fire fighters and stay with us for some time to come. I haven't come to a decission on the 5th although this is his second time to join the FD. He wasn't able to stay last time for personal reasons. He may not stay this time.

Because someone has piercings or tattoos doesn't make them the type of person you wouldn't want on your fire department. They are going to make the decissions themselves if they want to be fire fighters or keep their jewelry. Or find a comfortable compromise somewhere in between. For most it is a phase but for some it seems to identify them. Which still doesn't mean they don't have anything to contribute to us. How will we know or how will they know if emergency services is right for them if we don't give them the opportunity to find out? How do they do that? By joining a FD & showing up on calls.
For some by saying that they can't wear their jewelry turns them off the department period. Tats are permanent but can be hidden for the most part if it really is an issue. The kind of person who has skulls & crossbones tattooed on their forearms are not usually the type of person who will be attracted to emergency services. The guy who has an eagle with a full wingspread might be. They are both tattoos in prominent places but with very different meanings, both can be covered if necessary. If the person is truely serious about the job, they won't mind making the consession.

I will admit that I could be more accepting of these type things because I am exposed to them @ the university more & more. Some of them do look a bit "different" with all of their paraphanalia. The young men who dressed in black with their pants dropped to their hips didn't stay with us on the department long enough to go through basic training because they found it difficult to climb around on fire trucks & do the work we do and maintain their preference. The other young man who was their buddy put on some better fitting clothes and got rid of the spike bracelets and screws in his ears. He does still wear a small ring in his eyebrow.

The two career departments I am familiar with do now allow tats & piercings particularly with their medical staff because they have more turn over rates there. Again, I have never seen anything to be considered unsafe or unprofessional.

I have mentioned to a few of our folks that they should "tone down" their adornments when in uniform. The tiny nose stud doesn't look unprofessional to me but again, I see them daily. It isn't going to interfere with SCBA but the chain going from one ear through the nose to the other ear will & then it does become an issue. IF we have a policy on jewelry, then we have to have a policy for ALL JEWELRY. Some guys will not remove their wedding bands or metals. I can not see the sense in making a policy that everyone will not conform to all the time particularly if it is not a true safety issue. IF/when it becomes one, then it does need addressed. At that time, NO 4" spikes MEANS No 4" Spikes for ANYONE.

I truely "forget" to remove my earrings when I go on a call. My ears are double pierced and I have a cartilege piercing (5 earrings) I never wear dangly things and I have yet to be burned by them or have them compromise my SCBA. Contrary to popular belief, I have been in some pretty hot situations. During one of those situations, I ended up with what appeared to be a sunburn for a very long time from being too hot both on the outside & on the inside for too long but it really did not affect my earrings or any other jewelry I might have been wearing. I uaually remember to take my rings off & stick them in my pocket but only because I lost one of my favorite ones on a scene & never recovered it. Most men who wear rings will wear a wedding band and a class ring or some type of fraternity ring. They don't remember to remove them all the time either when they leave their kid's school function to become a firefighter. Unfortunately someday that might be a hazard as well but it happens to folks in civilian jobs & the private sector all the time too.

We had a guy who was from NYC who had spent a lot of time in Dade County FL in fire & rescue. He had tried to retire & come north to work for a security firm & found out that he wasn't done in emergency services and joined our FD. The man had tattoos everywhere, down both legs & arms and across his back. At the station when he wore shorts & tees everybody could see them BUT - when we were out on calls or in uniform they were covered. He wore a diamond stud constantly. He was one of THE BEST fire fighters and medics we ever had. He has since been transferred in his job but he gave us about 6 yrs of his life. Had we had a policy on tats & piercings we would have missed out on all he had to offer. We learned from his experience in other places and became better for it.

Both of my tats are usually covered unless I want them to show or it is 90 degrees in the shade. I seriously have never had anyone comment on them or even notice them when I am in what my family calls Firefighter MODE when I don't take time to cover them or remove my rings, earings & other jewelry. I am certian that the people I did CPR on or stopped bleeding didn't mind them either.

We are people first 100% of the time. We are firefighters always but we fight fire a small percentage of our time. I learned a long time ago that polyester & heels do not mix with the lifestyle of a fire fighter although I have worn a dress under bunker gear on several occassions. I am sure someone would take exception to that as well. I got a pretty nasty blister once from wearing my boots with pantyhose but that was my fault, not the Chief's or the Safety Officer's for not making a policy against them. It was my choice and one I will never make again.

It is my job to explain the risk to the individual of what might/could happen if they wear jewelry on an emergency scene. What they choose to do about it the other 165 hrs a week is not my concern at all.
I nor the department shouldn't tell an individual they can't wear an earring. They should be responsible enough as a fire fighter to make that decission and decide if they will pull their hood on over it or take a couple of seconds to take it out IF they happen to be wearing it/them at that particular time.
Some may believe that is a lienient stance for a Safety Officer but I will continue to believe that firefighters are also entitled to some personal choices when true safety is not a factor.
Comment by Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich on November 17, 2008 at 10:11am
Jenny:
I realize that recruitment and retention remains the hot topic in the fire service.
But, every time I hear someone suggest that we "relax" our requirements, I get concerned.
We all agree that more is expected of us in the fire service. Unfortunately, that includes appearance, too.
Personally, I don't mind body piercings or tattoos, but I think that the workplace has a right to legislate a certain dress code that may require removing "jewelry" while at work. Around here, "stretching" has become the fad, where big rings are put into the ear lobes. I can only imagine how hot they would get in a fire.
I think an argument about safety could be made for removing body piercings while on duty. Tattoos should be so that they can be covered if necessary. For instance, no tattoos on the forehead or the head in general. Anywhere else could be appropriate unless there is a rule about not seeing them at all. I know of a fire department that requires a member to wear long sleeve shirts, because he has tats below his elbows.
WE all know that personal appearance doesn't define the person, but it's all about perception and if we look like terrorists, we will be treated like terrorists.
As far as blogs go; well, this is a public arena, so if you post something here, be prepared for anything. Yeah; they can ignore it, skip it or read it and reply. If you don't like the reply, you can always delete it. I wouldn't do it, because I don't make it a habit.
But, to each his/her own.
TCSS.
Art

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