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'No warning; no communication' | Firefighters calling on Charlotte Fire to clear up confusion on hair policy

Several firefighters told WCNC Charlotte that a recent mix-up on how firefighters are allowed to wear their hair is causing confusion and safety concerns.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Some firefighters with the Charlotte Fire Department are concerned after they said policies are being enforced inconsistently and affecting their safety.  

The policy causing confusion among firefighters determines how they are allowed to wear their hair while on duty. 

"The grooming policy, so many policies, are not administered consistently,” CFD battalion chief Sylvia Phifer shared.

Several firefighters told WCNC Charlotte it started when a woman was told her hair was in violation for the length going past her collar. 

CFD's grooming policy states hair must be above the collar when wearing the formal Class A uniform. There is no instruction on a length outside of that.

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Phifer said she wants clarification because women haven't had issues with wearing their hair in a braid past their collars while at the station or responding to calls until now. 

"For three-and-a-half years, an individual may have worn their hair a certain way and then, all of the sudden, one day, someone comes into the station and says, 'Oh your hair is out of regs. You have to change it today,'" Tom Brewer explained. "No warning; no communication."

Brewer is president of the Charlotte Firefighters Association. He said he is trying to get clarification on the rule and why this incident happened but hasn’t heard back from CFD leadership. 

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"Our main issue is if you’re going to change a policy or reinterpret it, you have to tell people," Brewer said. 

For many women, wearing their hair above their collar means putting it in a bun. Phifer said buns can get in the way of mask seals and protective equipment, putting a firefighter’s life at risk. 

"I spoke with several women," Phifer said. "And one woman said this – she said, ‘I can't wear my hair in a bun. If I wear my hair in a bun, I’m going to die.'"

WCNC Charlotte asked CFD several times to clear up the confusion about how the policy is being enforced. The spokesperson did not answer questions about the new interpretation of the policy but said no firefighters have been disciplined for violating it. 

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We are always evaluating policies to make sure we are sensitive to cultural and societal changes,” CFD spokesperson Captain Jackie Gilmore added. 

Phifer said she wants women to have a seat at the table when creating policies to ensure they’re inclusive for all firefighters. She is still asking for the department to clear up confusion on the grooming policy.

Contact Julia Kauffman at jkauffman@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

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