To D.C. fire officials, beards are a safety hazard — interfering with the seal between the firefighter’s skin and oxygen mask. The department wants to bar firefighters from growing any facial hair that affects the fit of the protective gear. To firefighter Calvert Potter and others on the force, beards are an expression of their faith. Potter, who converted to Islam a decade ago, has a two-inch beard, and he refuses to clip it. “Basically, what they are saying to me is that a Muslim can’t be a fireman,” said Potter, 43, who joined the department 14 years ago. “This is part of my religion.” At a hearing tomorrow, a federal judge could settle the dispute over whether the department can force firefighters to shave their beards. The issue has been mostly dormant since 2001, when the department first tried to restrict beards and hair length of firefighters. (MORE)


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