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Tattoos: A Word of Warning

Tattoos: A Word of Warning

Paul Lepore

There is an underlying belief that a department will not see a tattoo before a candidate is hired; by then it is too late to terminate his or her employment. The rationale may be that during every contact with the department (interview, background investigation, polygraph and psychological exam), he or she will wear a suit or a long-sleeved shirt.

In reality, there is no “hiding” a tattoo. In addition to the physical agility exam, the department will conduct a thorough medical examination. It is increasingly common to see departments require entry-level candidates to show up for their oral interview in a short sleeve shirt.

Many departments require that candidates declare every tattoo, visible or not, to the background investigator. Together with the psychologist they will determine if the tattoo is appropriate for a firefighter to possess.

If a department decided to terminate a candidate, it would be very unlikely to be due to a tattoo. Hiring decisions are not made at the fire station level, and the firefighters in the station do not know what is revealed or hidden during the testing process. If the department believed that a candidate were less than truthful, the department could make life difficult for him or her.

Several fire departments have implemented tattoo policies. Simply stated, if a member has a visible tattoo in place before a specified date he or she is required to keep it covered during while on duty. A suitable cover, in most cases consists of a long sleeve uniform shirt. Flesh covered ace bandages or band aids are also approved coverings. Any member who does not have a visible tattoo BEFORE the specified date is prohibited to get one. No new employees will be hired with visible tattoos.

Having a tattoo will by no means prevent you from becoming a firefighter. Candidates see respected firefighters with large tattoos and believe they are acceptable. It is important to note that these firefighters probably got their large tattoos AFTER being hired. In other words, there is nothing the department can do about them.

If you are considering getting a tattoo, here is a barometer to use when contemplating your decision. Picture yourself reaching out to take my 67-year old mother’s blood pressure. How is she going to feel when she sees your tattoos? Is she going to feel uncomfortable with you? If the answer is yes, your tattoo could affect your chances of getting hired.

Why is this important? It is the people in our community who encourage our city representatives to vote on a strong pay and benefit package for the firefighters. We spend a considerable amount of energy and effort to maintain a positive image in the community.

The intent of this article is not to pass judgment of people with tattoos, rather to educate candidates who are contemplating getting one.

Some of our most competent and dedicated firefighters have ink on their bodies. It is even more popular since 9/11. I would trust my life to them. The key difference is that they already have a badge. If you are considering getting a tattoo and are wondering if it will affect you, the answer is a definite maybe. A wise candidate would postpone getting one in favor of waiting until he or she has completed probation. It is a risk versus benefit scenario. Why take a chance on affecting your future? If you still feel strongly about getting one, just be aware of the potential consequences of your decision.


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