Seven months after the Arlington County Board urged Fire Chief Robert F. Goshon and his fire fighters to reach a compromise on the proper length of firemen's hair, the issue has been rekindled by Goshon's reissuance of the regulation that started the controversy.
Last April Goshon ordered his men to keep their hair above their ears and shirt collars and warned that anyone not in compliance with the rule could be suspended or fired from the department.
Assistant Fire Chief Harvey E. Wood said yesterday that the rule was necessary to protect the firemen's safety. Goshon has argued that his men do not wear their helmet liners over their ears on duty and said it was his job "to make sure that a person carried out of a burning building isn't dropped because a fire fighter's hair was on fire."
The reissued hair-length order outraged many of Arlington's 250 fire fighter, some of whom say Goshon - who wears his hair well cropped - is tryiing to impose his personal grooming habits on them. The fire fighters are skeptical about Goshon's arugment that the short hair styles are a necessary safety precaution.
After listening to the men and their fire chief for several hours last April, the Arlington Board concluded it had no jurisdiction over the matter and urged the parties to reach a compromise. It also was agreed that he new rule would not be enforced until a final agreement could be reached.
The issue seemed to fade but, like a leaf fire that appears dead but continues to smoulder within, the controversy was rekindled after Goshon again issued his original order, to take effect last Friday.
The order will not be enforced, however, until after the Dec. 7 meeting of the Arlington County Civil Service Commission, which must decide if it has jurisdiction over the matter bfefore it can make a ruling.
Reaction among the fire fighters, who include one woman for whom the hair regulations are the same as for the men, was predictable: "We're not the Marine Corps. We're not in boot camp, and we feel our own rights are being stepped on somewhat," Lt. John E. Sher of Fire Station No. 10 complained yesterday.
Sher, a member of the Arlington Professional Firefighters' Association, said the group will take its case to the county's Civil Service Commission on Dec. 7 and may challenge Goshon's ruling in the courts.
"We don't deny that there's a need for some type of [hair] regulation for safety purposes," added Sher, "but he's [Goshon] gone to the extreme."
Harry Brady, who along with Sher is a member of the firefighters' association's "hair committee," said the firemen had asked to help draw up the hair rules, but their request was not granted. He added that the issue had "destroyed" the men's morale.
At Fire Station No. 10 yesterday fire fighter Edwin Turner, who sports a closely cropped moustache and wavy hair down to his ears, seemed somewhat bitter about the episode.
"Our uniforms are hazardous, our running gear is hazardous. They don't issue us gloves, we have to buy our own, and they come and tell us we have to cut our hair," said Turner.
"I just think they ought to pick on something else" a baldish fireman remarked when asked about the issue.
Assistant Fire Chief Wood said there was no proof that the men's uniforms were hazardous. "We provide them with what we consider the best equipment available," he said.
As for the charge that Chief Goshon is trying to impose his grooming habits on the fire fighters, Wood replied "I don't think that that's worth commenting on."