THE DRAFTERS OF THE Bill of Rights unaccountably neglected to guarantee our tonsorial rights (perhaps it was because they wore wigs) and thus opened the way for at least two centuries of haggling over what length of hair constitutes too long. Over the years this issue has preoccupied bureaucrats, high school principals, military brass - and parents.Most recently it has engaged the attention of the resolute fire chief of Arlington, Robert F. Groshon. In mid-March the chief issued an edict that firefighters' hair must stop above their ears and above their collars, under penalty of suspension from the force. By today's standards none of them had particularly long hair in the first place, but many of the men - as well as the county's one firewoman - responded to the order pretty much the way you would expect in an age when the length of one's hair seems to be sacred. An American Civil Liberties Union lawyer was hired; petitions were signed; legislators issued statements of support. The county board held a boisterous hearing and then ducked the issue.
Chief Groshon's argument isnt't one of those bizzare ones you sometimes hear - like that of the Texas football coach who several years ago called for a nationwide ban of long hair on the playing field because it exposes "abnormal drives" and breaks with "biblical principles." Citing safety, Chief Groshon explained that his firefighters should wear shorter hair to "make sure a person being carried from a burning building isn't dropped because a firefighter's hair is on fire." We think this argument makes a certain amount of sense: Hair is flammable, after all, and it would seem logical that the longer it is, the greater the risk, if your line of work happens to bring your head into close proximity to flames.
The law, it must be granted, appears to be on the chief's side.Only last year, Justice William H. Rehnquist delivered from the Supreme Court bench a decision upholding hair limits imposed on police officers. But isn't common sense on the side of an accommodation here? In neighboring Alexandria, the firefighters are allowed to wear their hair as long as two inches below the helmet liner. Whether that is precisely the right limit, we would not presume to say. But we offer it, free of charge and in the interest of amity, as a reasonable starting point for negotiations on a tonsorial code for Arlington's firefighting force.