Deputy Mayor responds to GLAA on Fire/EMS grooming policy
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GLAA on Public Safety

Deputy Mayor responds to GLAA on Fire/EMS grooming policy

Executive Office of the Mayor

Edward D. Reiskin
Deputy Mayor for Public Safety & Justice
The John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Suite 327
Washington DC 20004
(202) 727-4036

June 28, 2005

Richard J. Rosendall
Vice President for Political Affairs
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington
P.O. Box 75265
Washington, D.C. 20013

Dear Mr. Rosendall:

Thank you for your letter of June 8, 2005, expressing your concern about the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department (DCFEMS) "grooming policy."

DCFEMS recently adopted national safety standards on respiratory protection, promulgated by the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA). As part of this respiratory protection plan, all operational personnel are required to be tested to ensure that their face masks have an adequate seal to protect from environmental hazards, including chemical, biological and nuclear toxins. According to OHSA regulations, in order for a person to be fit-tested, there can be no facial hair where the sealing surface of the face mask meets the skin.

In compliance with the OHSA regulations, the fit-test requirements of DCFEMS' respiratory protection plan only apply to the area of the face where the sealing surface meets the skin. The Department is not concerned with the style or appearance of the beard, as long as it meets OSHA requirements. In that respect, it is vastly different from the "grooming" policy which is the subject of the Potter v. D.C. lawsuit. That policy attempted to regulate the length and style of hair, and also allowed members to have a quarter inch beard.

Indeed, the safety benefits of the Department's respiratory protection plan are well documented. We are living in an age of heightened alert against terrorism and our first responders must be prepared to act in the event of a chemical or biological attack. While a positive pressure mask may be sufficient for most firefighting events that our first responders encounter, the status of the District as a high threat target city for terrorism requires that our responders also be prepared to use negative pressure filter masks that cannot be used properly without a tight seal. Even short of a chemical or biological attack, negative pressure filter masks may be necessary, as was the case when first responders were called upon to rescue victims of the World Trade Center attack on 9/11.

To further underscore the importance of the respiratory protection plan, it will bring DC into parity with nearly every major U.S. city and al119 local government members of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) that already comply with the OSHA standards governing face masks. Our failure to institute a plan previously has not been without consequence in the region. You may have read an article in the June 16, 2005, edition of the Washington Times that reported on the fact that officials in Prince George's County, Maryland, bar our firefighters from responding to most events in that county because of the safety risks involved in dispatching a responder that cannot form an air tight seal on his face mask.

A handful of DCFEMS employees who have objected to this plan for religious reasons have been temporarily granted an exemption and have been allowed to continue to perform their regular duties. The judge in the Potter case has scheduled a hearing on this matter for August 1, 2005, and hopefully a final decision will be rendered shortly thereafter. The Department will of course comply with the orders of the court regardless of the outcome.

On a personal note, I sincerely appreciate the perspective of your organization on this issue in particular. The Mayor and I are deeply committed to doing more than just complying with the Human Rights Act. That is why Chief Thompson, members of my staff, and I joined the Mayor at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Citizen Summit on April 30, 2005, to hear from members of the community about their public safety concerns.

Again, thank you for sharing your valid concerns and please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any further questions.


Edward D. Reiskin
Deputy Mayor

Cc: The Honorable Phil Mendelson
Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary

Robert J. Spagnoletti
Attorney General for the District of Columbia

Adrian Thompson
Chief, Fire and Emergency Medical Services

Kenneth Saunders
Director, Office of Human Rights

Art Spitzer
Legal Director, ACLU/NCA

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