Firefighters sacrifice looks to job
Some firefighters recently had to decide if they would be able to wake up in the morning and look at themselves in the mirror.
Three Fish Springs Volunteer Fire Department members decided to shave their beards – some of them for the first time in years – to pass a test required by the Occupational Safety and Health Association to wear compressed air tanks and masks.
OSHA recently passed a law that prohibits facial hair, which prevents a seal between the firefighter’s face and the mask. The air packs provide protection to allow a firefighter to attack a fire from inside a building regardless of smoke. Without the air packs, firefighters are banned from entering a house fire. The law has presented many firefighters with a difficult decision.
Firefighters Bob Grissom, Richard Tomer and Joe Volk took part in a group shearing Tuesday night that allowed them to train with the air packs.
Tomer, who has been a firefighter for a little more than a year, said he shaved his beard last March for training, but prior to that, he hadn’t touched it since 1971.
“We kind of got together and struck an agreement. We all knew we had to do it and were kind of reluctant about it, and I guess (volunteer Capt.) Elaine Pace talked about it and decided to make a group thing of this,” Tomer said.
Bob Grissom, an 18-year veteran of the department, said he’s had a beard for almost that long.
“I grew it in the first place for some principle or other that no longer exists or I can’t remember. It was nice not having to look at my face in the morning; it was convenient. The biggest problem has been my face has been cold,” Grissom said.
During the training exercise, the firefighters put on the air pack and mask and read a page-long story. The story, developed by a physical therapist, is designed to make the firefighter move his or her face in several different ways. While doing this, an instructor sprays smoke that contains an irritant around the face mask. If the firefighter does not have a good seal with the mask, he or she would inhale the gas and begin tearing and coughing immediately. This test is given annually to every career and volunteer firefighter.
Grissom said the volunteers will repeat the exercise many times during the next couple of weeks so using the equipment will be second nature when extinguishing a house fire.
He said before OSHA changed the rules, he was able to pass the tests by keeping his beard trimmed short. Grissom said he didn’t mind shaving it all off for the department.
“I think it’s a good way to promote the ideals and professionalism of the department,” Grissom said. “There are a lot of sacrifices, a lot of demands on a volunteer’s time and a lot of commitment, which I sort of grew into. It’s sometimes overwhelming for someone just joining. But there’s a sense of family, a sense of purpose, besides the thrill of a fire, which every fireman has to some degree. There’s a sense of community that is very important; very much part of your life.”
East Fork Fire Chief Tod Carlini commended the firefighters who shaved their beards to comply with the OSHA requirement.
“We continue to ask our volunteer and career staff to do more and more in our effort to meet the growing expectations of the public. These individuals have demonstrated a strong sense of commitment and dedication by opting to shave their beards and comply with the OSHA requirements,” Carlini said.
After the firefighters were clean-shaven, all the volunteers went through the first round of training – familiarizing themselves with the new equipment.
East Fork Training Capt. Scott Fraser said 13 new air packs were put into service at Fish Springs. The packs are the newest technology available.
The air packs cost $2,200 each. Fish Springs is one of three departments receiving new air packs this year. East Fork is in the process of replacing older air packs in all 11 stations.