by: Michael Yoshida Updated:
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A battle is brewing within the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department over whether firefighters should be forced to shave their beards.
Many Jacksonville firefighters are being held back after a memo was sent to them saying they needed to be clean-shaven by their next duty day or be placed on administrative duty.
Ivan Mote, the vice president of the Jacksonville Brotherhood of Firefighters, said that’s a problem for many who keep short, trimmed beards.
“These guys have medical conditions,” Mote said. “The act of shaving actually makes them sick.”
Mote said shaving can cause them to get skin infections and ingrown hairs.
Action News Jax reached out to the city and was sent a statement that reads in part:
“Facial hair compromises the integrity of the mask, contributing to increased risk to the firefighters and the citizens and communities they commit to serving.”
“Last duty day they were OK to work, after the memo it's a safety issue,” Mote said.
Florida Law and OSHA standards require firefighters to be clean-shaven when wearing a respirator.
Mote said many think this change isn't about safety but something else.
“They believe it's retaliation for leaking the jingle bomb story that occurred at Station 18 over the holidays,” Mote said.
Mote is referencing an issue in which firefighters got in trouble for a screen saver that showed a firefighter's face on a known terrorist with the saying "jingle bombs.”
The city disagrees saying the two issues are separate and the change comes after a ruling by the city's general counsel.
If firefighters don't shave their beards they'll be provided a limited duty 40-hour schedule or limited as to how they can use their sick leave and remain on a 56-hour work week until their bank accounts are exhausted.