- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2005

Three ambulances and two fire engines were placed out of service yesterday when several rescue workers showed up for work without shaving, in defiance of a D.C. Fire and EMS Department grooming policy.

“The companies were placed out of service until someone who was in compliance could be called in to backfill those positions,” fire department spokesman Alan Etter said.

Mr. Etter said three firefighters who violated the grooming policy, which officials began enforcing yesterday, were assigned to administrative duty.

Three other firefighters were referred to the department’s clinic after they said they did not shave because they have a skin condition called pseudofolliculitis barbae, or razor bumps, in which whiskers curl back into the skin and cause inflammation.

Mr. Etter said no rescuers who worked yesterday claimed an exemption from the grooming policy on religious grounds.

Engine 25 in Southeast, Engine 5 in Georgetown, Ambulance 25 in Southeast, Ambulance 31 in Northwest and Ambulance 27 in Northeast were the affected units. A battalion chief’s aide in the First Battalion was also in violation of the policy.

Additional units could be put out of service through Thursday, as each day another of the department’s four platoons is tested.

Lt. Ray Sneed, president of the D.C. Firefighters Association, was among those placed on administrative duty yesterday.

“I think today people were trying to get a handle on this,” he said. “I think tomorrow the numbers will be even greater.”

Officials yesterday began testing firefighters to make sure the face masks on their breathing gear have a proper fit.

According to a special order issued May 25 by Chief Adrian H. Thompson, all firefighters had to be beardless at the time of the test because facial hair can interfere with the mask’s seal against the face.

The regulation, which has been on the books since 1997, allows neatly trimmed sideburns and mustaches if they do not interfere with the fit of the mask.

Lt. Sneed has argued that facial hair has no affect on the mask’s ability to form a seal.

In 2001, the last time fire officials attempted to enforce the regulation, six firefighters represented by the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the department in U.S. District Court on the grounds the policy violated their religious freedom.

A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction preventing the department from placing the men on administrative leave, saying he recognized the safety concerns, but ruling that the policy “very clearly” violated the men’s religious freedom.

Four of the men were Muslims, one was a Rastafarian and another was a Nazarite.

Islam encourages but does not require the wearing of beards. Rastafarianism, which reveres Ethiopian emperor Haile Salassie I as the Messiah, urges men not to cut their beards. Nazarite, a Jewish sect, requires that men not cut their beards.

The case was never settled and the preliminary injunction remains in place.

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