Some city firefighters are fuming over the Los Angeles Fire Department's new “no show” tattoo policy. The policy as of May 1 forbids tattooed firefighters from exposing their ink in public. That means firefighters who have tattoos on their arms need to cover up with long-sleeve shirts, and those who have tattoos on their necks have to wear bandages.
The policy has raised the ire of tatted out firefighters – some former soldiers – who believe they are being unfairly targeted by brass.
“After 20 years I am no longer considered professional by my fire department, just like that,” said LAFD firefighter/diver John O'Connor. “Every piece of 'work' that I have is either blood family or fire service family. I have always displayed them proudly, and to be made to cover them up is weird. This was disheartening to me. My pride has been blown away.”
The policy affects around 200 firefighters with visible tattoos that cannot be covered by the standard uniform, says O'Connor. So now, firefighters are covering up with long-sleeve shirts and track pants to work out, and wearing bandages or skin patches where the shirt doesn't cover.
According to sources, management has told fire captains their necks are on the line if they don't enforce the policy.
Los Angeles Fire Department spokesperson Chief Ronnie Villanueva said that the policy isn't personal — it's about professionalism and how the public perceives the department. Others have argued that some firefighters have gone beyond “a couple” of tattoos to full-blown tattoos on their heads and necks, or tattooed numbers that could be misconstrued as being gang-affiliated.
However, some firefighters say that it has precious little to do with public perception and more to do with the “old guard” who have complained to management about the increase in body art over the years.
Solutions have been batted around between the firefighters' union — UFLAC — and management for years. Union representatives argued that a no-show policy wasn't realistic and suggested having members cover up only those tattoos that were offensive to the public. Last summer, the two parties agreed to hire an independent arbiter to make recommendations. The fact finder ruled in favor of the union, but, according to union VP Jon McDuffie, the department implemented its own ideas.
“A lot of the guys offended by the tattoos are members of our department,” says McDuffie. “Is that enough to call people 'unprofessional' and throw up these unilateral policies?” He says dozens of complaints have been filed since the crackdown began on May 1.