Hair raises issue for some Jacksonville firefighters who bristle at handling of policy

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A group speaking on behalf of Black firefighters within the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department says an issue over hair is being used against some firefighters. The question is whether firefighters should be allowed to have braids and dreadlocks -- or whether they create a safety issue.

The young firefighter whose incident sparked the debate didn’t want to be identified, but he is making a name for himself when it comes to the fire department and its policies about hair, hair length, safety, grooming, and the way firefighters appear in public.

In a letter obtained by News4JAX that was sent to the fire union and JFRD officials, the firefighter, who was to work an overtime shift at Fire Station 1, said the chief there told him he had to go home and lose overtime pay or go in the bathroom to cut his hair because it was too thick. He chose to go home.

In doing so, the firefighter says he lost out on the overtime pay.

A spokesman for the Brotherhood of Firefighters, District Fire Chief Terrance Jones, believes that was wrong.

“And that’s an unlawful order because the only way we can send a firefighter home is if we suspect him or her of being under influence of some type of drug,” Jones said, adding that it’s not just up to one person to decide. He said another fire official has to agree with the discipline. Jones also said there was nothing wrong with the firefighter’s hair and that it met regulation.

“His hair was up, and it was legal. We have females on the job whose hair is much longer than his,” Jones said.

In fact, Jones said, the firefighter has been working and still works at another station where the length and style of his hair have never come into question.

JFRD Chief Keith Powers is normally very forthcoming with interviews but in regards to this issue, provided only this statement with the understanding it would be used in its entirety:

“As a policy, JFRD does not comment on specific personnel matters. That being said, JFRD Chief Officers are required by policy to maintain order and discipline within the companies in their districts and shall take necessary action to correct any deficiencies found. I fully support JFRD Chief Officers in their efforts to ensure personnel are properly groomed and present a professional public image as required by a longstanding department policy. In fact, during probation all new firefighters are provided a copy of all JFRD policies and are tested on them to ensure a complete understanding.”

News4JAX also received a copy of that policy, which was updated last August. It says:

  • Hairstyles that interfere with personal protective equipment are not allowed
  • Hair should be neat, clean, and styled to present a well-groomed appearance
  • Hair should not exceed 2 inches in thickness
  • Hair on the side of the head shall not extend below the bottom of the ear and on the back of the head shall not extend to top of the collar

For women, many of the same requirements apply but they can restrain it or wear it up to comply.

Randy Wyse, the President of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters, gave News4JAX this statement:

“(The firefighter) is utilizing his rights under our Collective Bargaining Agreement and his union will be guiding him through the grievance process. This isn’t the first time grooming has become an issue for local Black fighters. A lawsuit in federal court is still pending over beards …”

And we are also hearing there is an issue now with tattoos. Jacksonville firefighters, along with JSO officers are not allowed tattoos on their hands, neck or face. No complaint has been filed on that, but we are told it’s becoming an issue.

About the Author:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.