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Image and Professionalism in the Fire Service

October 4, 2023

24

A recent article in the Daily Dispatch shares that the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) is going to social media to ask for their public’s input on whether or not changes should be made to their current firefighter tattoo policy. The current policy is from 2008 and does not allow any of LAFD's sworn members to display tattoos while on duty. Fire Headlines host Samantha Didion joins the panel of Chiefs Bob Horton and Jeff Buchanan to speak with an organizational psychologist, owner, and principal consultant for FR Strategies, Dr. Andrew Holter, on image and professionalism in the fire service.

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Discuss image and professionalism, specifically tattoos, in the fire service in the latest episode of WFCA’s Fire Headlines Podcast featuring Dr. Andrew Holter.

Image and Professionalism in the Fire Service

A recent article in the Daily Dispatch shares that the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) is going to social media to ask for their public’s input on whether or not changes should be made to their current firefighter tattoo policy. The current policy is from 2008 and does not allow any of LAFD’s sworn members to display tattoos while on duty. Fire Headlines host Samantha Didion joins the panel of Chiefs Bob Horton and Jeff Buchanan to speak with an organizational psychologist, owner, and principal consultant for FR Strategies, Dr. Andrew Holter, on image and professionalism in the fire service.

Research About Perception

To help gain a deeper understanding of how tattoos can impact an individual’s perception, this week’s guest, Dr. Andrew Holter, brought a few studies to the discussion. He sheds light on the transformation in the perception of tattoos, comparing the early 2000s when tattoos were often seen unfavorably by customers or consumers across various industries, to the year 2022 when there was virtually no adverse reaction towards people with tattoos. Dr. Holter points out that in today’s world, the only types of tattoos that continue to elicit some degree of negative response are extensive body tattoos and tattoos located on prominent parts of the body.

One specific case he referenced dates back to 2016 in Canada, examining the reception of small tattoos among dental hygienists. The patients of these dental hygienists had no reaction to the tattoos, but large visible tattoos did garner a negative response. However, this reaction did not influence whether or not the patient would return to that organization and patients who also had tattoos preferred going back to that dental practice. Dr. Holter attributes this to individuals seeing themselves represented in the organization that is serving them.

When Debating a Policy Change

Chief Horton and Buchanan voice that policy changes are typically created to solve a problem at hand. The issue surrounding firefighters having to conceal their tattoos can be attributed to uniform requirements and their impact on functionality. In the high temperatures of LA, a firefighter wearing long sleeves to hide tattoos can be seen as a threat to that individual’s health. Dr. Holter states the survey provided by the LAFD is not very scientific with questions such as “Do you feel that an LA Fire Department member would provide less of a service if they were displaying tattoos on their body?” and “Do you feel the LAFD should revise their tattoo policy so members would not be required to cover their tattoos on their arms while on duty?”

Dr. Holter says to gauge the real perception, the survey should incorporate questions that allow the public to utilize “somewhat agree” or “somewhat disagree” related statements. This allows more flexibility for the public to voice their opinion. Chief Buchanan agrees with this, asserting that when surveys are designed in such a manner, they come across as insincere. He suggests the idea of arranging a focus group to have a conversation with the public on this topic to gain a full range of responses.

Contact Dr. Andrew Holter: www.FR-Strategies.com.

You can email Fire Headlines at [email protected].

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