Firefighters fired up over tattoo rules

By Kerry Cavanaugh, Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 06/23/2008 10:48:56 PM PDT

Los Angeles city firefighters are heated up over a new policy that requires them to cover all visible tattoos while on the job, no matter whether they're responding to a call or making dinner in the firehouse.
Since the policy took effect May 1, firefighters complain they've had to wear sweat shirts, long sleeves, and even skin patches to hide their body art.

Firefighter David Navarro, 50, developed a rash from the patch he wears over the American eagle imprinted on his forearm.

The veteran got the tattoo while serving in the Marine Corps and said he never once heard a complaint from the public about his or other firefighters' tattoos. In fact, he said, he now gets more questions from people about the patch; they ask whether he was burned or hurt on the job.

"A tattoo isn't a safety issue. They just say it's about appearance," Navarro said.

"I find it offensive in a way. You're making me hide my pride for the military. I served my country for 27 years and now they're saying, `Your eagle is no good'?"

But LAFD officials said they're simply following the lead of other public-safety agencies that have cracked down on personnel who come to work covered in body art.
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Last week, the union filed a grievance after one chief officer instructed captains to check firefighters to make sure their tattoos were covered while they were in bed sleeping.

The policy change especially bothered some longtime firefighters who suddenly found that their tattoos were offensive and should be covered.

"I have lived, eaten and breathed the fire service for 20 years and all of a sudden management does not consider my appearance professional. I'm a black sheep," said John O'Connor, a longtime firefighter who has flames and fire-service tattoos over most of his arms.

O'Connor said he wants the Fire Department to change the policy so the prohibition on exposed tattoos would only apply to new body art. Or at least, he said, loosen the restrictions in the firehouse.

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I'm not wild about viewing body art involuntarily but I think it's nuts to make them cover up when they are in the firehouse.

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