Well, I think it’s time for me to take a Louisville Slugger to the hornets nest. (Maybe that’s a bit dramatic). At any rate, the idea for this post came to me while sitting at a community function at a local volunteer fire department. As I sat there and looked around at the members of that department and the members of the surrounding departments that were there in support of the department holding the event, I saw a common trait among those in attendance. Aside from the “I fight what you fear” t-shirts and the pagers on their belts, most of them had a similar trait. After some “research” on the subject, I found that there are passionate opinions both for and against this particular trait. I even read a summary document about a civil lawsuit on the subject. I must have been naive to think that this issue was a “no-brainer”. What is the subject you ask? (I can hear you saying “get to the point stupid”!) Are you ready? ——— FACIAL HAIR!!!!!——–
I know, right? You probably thought I was going to say tactics, strategy, patient care, heroin, fire truck color or even leather verses composite for helmets. Noooooope, FACIAL HAIR! There are a lot more dire subjects I could spend my afternoon pecking away at the keyboard about but this one seems to be the source of some heated arguments deep within some departments. Therefore, I must hit the proverbial hornets nest with the force of (insert the popular baseball player of your choice because I don’t follow sports and don’t know any of their names) and I must feel the wrath of the angry swarm for the sake of an imaginary sense of purpose I have made up and, most importantly, for your amusement. I mean, it’s not like any departments internal debate process is like some sort of Fight Club type scenario……Shit!!! I wasn’t supposed to talk about that…..Rule #1 ………
Anyway, this subject at the very least has some diehard for and against folks. Each not willing to give the other any credit and both having a position that they vigorously defend.
So let me give you my perspective on the issue using my background. ( I know you didn’t ask but you are still reading this so you are going to get it anyway). I started my career in a small rural volunteer department that, at the time, was governed and lead by several men that were long time volunteers. They came from a generation of firefighting that did not use “air packs”. They were the leather lunged, curly mustachioed men that walked in and out of a burning house like you and I walk in and out of a convenience store. The smoke was just smoke to them. They didn’t see the smoke as a carcinogen laden, oxygen stealing, lung wrecking black, grey and brown hellish devil monster that would eventually come back and haunt them when they were 80 to steal a fraction of each breath until they died. It was just smoke. “Chew it up and spit it out rookie”! They were men among men and served the community with everything they had. They weren’t firefighting “hobbyists“. They weren’t the guys who worked at a big department and spent their off time at the fire station. They had real jobs in factories, on farms or in a trade. They were dedicated community servants. They were a generation that kept a clean face. It was just how they were raised. It was expected.
When our department purchased and placed “air packs” into service, it was obvious to the department leaders that the only way this “face piece” thing was going to work on the pimpled faced rookies is to make sure that the young boots kept their faces clean shaven. So the rule came down from on high that you will not have facial hair if you plan on being part of their department. If you showed up for a run with a five o’clock shadow, you would be assigned to the equipment truck to fill air bottles and pass out water to the guys who took serving the community seriously. That’s how they saw the job. Their perspective seemed to be that if you didn’t show up prepared, then you must not care about the people that you serve. They assumed that you think you are more important than the people you committed yourself to serve; more important than the people you put your life on the line for. That was not their version of volunteerism. That was not their version of selfless service. After all, we were community members serving each other so the Chief(s) knew that you could be crawling in to rescue their family members one day so you better be ready…….everyday!
I have taken that lesson with me throughout my career. Like most people, I have lost sight of that lesson several times and had to check myself on various occasions. I have tried hard over the years to make sure I put the people I serve ahead of myself, even though it may not have looked like it at certain times in my career. My goal has been to put the response before the politics and to remember why i started on this journey in the first place. And yes, I have always shaved my face so that I was ready for when the shrill beeping of the pager broke through my day or when the ceiling witch broke the silence of the firehouse to let me know it is time to serve those who depend on me. I stopped volunteering several years ago, mainly because I moved to an area that didn’t have a volunteer department. However, I have always made sure I had a clean face at the beginning of my shift. “You need to be ready kid” still echoes in the back of my mind.
So my “research” seemed to reveal two key points. 1) How well will the mask will seal if you have facial hair and 2) Does facial hair matter when using the positive pressure SCBA systems we have today? There are some cultural and religious arguments made as well, which I understand, but the bulk of the arguments seem to orbit around the first two ideas. The for and against lob comments back and forth, injecting OSHA’s take on the subject and chucking the occasional insult at each other. That’s what we do when we think we are losing or when we think that someone has put a tiny dent in our inflated versions of ourselves, we insult them. Humans are strange beings.
(You think you look like this… You don’t look like this.)
To me, having facial hair that interferes with the seal of the mask seems a bit reckless. You are taking a chance that doesn’t need to be taken. You may be putting yourself in a position to be injured simply because you want things your way. That doesn’t seem like selfless service. In my mind, you are saying that you want to serve your community or the residence in the community where you work on your terms. Is that what you really believe or am I reading the situation wrong?
I am no expert, I have said that many times so I can’t give you statistics on the science of face piece use or the engineering around their effectiveness but I can give you observational data that indicates that if you have facial hair, your face piece does not seal correctly and pressurized air will escape. Conversely, if you have a clean shaven face, your mask fits well and no air escapes. I go through a technical fit test every year at my department where a SCBA technician hooks my face piece up to a computer while it is on my face and checks for a proper seal before, during and after several motions that are designed to break the seal. Some of my colleagues have failed a few of those tests due to excess facial hair or by having stubble on their face. They shave their face, retest and pass. That’s observation data, not science but it makes sense to me.
So back to the event that spawned this rant in the first place. I looked around the room at those dragon slayers and thought that maybe these guys don’t understand what being inside a burning building is really like. I can’t fault them for that because it is the luck of the draw if you catch a house fire in a rural volunteer department. I know they had to shave their faces for their fire class. It is a requirement for all of the programs around where I live. I asked myself if maybe it was a management issue. After all, I was “raised” in a department that was very strict about facial hair as I mentioned before. I also asked myself the scarier question (at least to me); do they really care about the people that they serve? I know that is a mental leap but that is how my brain works. I hope they do care. I hope they don’t put themselves above those they serve. I hope that the management in their department isn’t scared to hold them to some rules for fear of running people off. If your employees don’t want to follow some simple directives, then are they really quality employees? There are some that do not put themselves above the community they serve. You can usually tell because they stand out from the rest. They are ready. They are prepared. Their gear is just so on the rack and they are in the front of the pack of firefighters that approaches the command post for an assignment. And they don’t have hair on their face. Again, it’s observation not science.
We are in the age of the beard. Supposedly some ladies and/or men out there that love dudes with beards and flannel shirts. Society has given every bearded man some man-cred (yes, I think I just invented a word) and looks to them as an indication of what a real man is supposed to look like. The beard care industry is going strong so there must be something to it. I get it I guess. It makes you feel manly. Whatever. I submit that there is no manlier feeling than crawling into a fire and putting it out. Except for maybe combat. I have never been in combat. There are plenty of guys and girls out there that can explain what combat is like. Some of my old Chiefs were Vietnam vets. No hair on their faces for sure. Just sayin……..
Anyway, I hope that whatever your employment status is, volunteer, part-time or full-time, you believe in serving your community to the best of your ability. You may feel that I am way off of the mark on this subject and that I should mind my own business regarding departments I don’t work in. That may be true. I’m a big boy, I can take it! I can assure you however, that if the bearded fireman showed up at my house and couldn’t go in because his mask won’t seal, he wouldn’t have to worry about being a fireman anymore.
Stay safe and shave your face. With any luck, it will make you look younger. It doesn’t help me anymore but then again, my cracking and popping bones give my age away anyway. Thanks for stopping by!!