Beyond their field work attire, firefighters appear in public in one of two dress uniform styles. Class A and Class B uniforms share some similarities, but a fire department’s individual protocol dictates the guidelines for each uniform’s use. These ensembles are meant to impart an air of professionalism; as such, many departments prohibit wearing dress uniforms in bars, casinos or adult entertainment facilities.
The highest level of dress uniform goes by different names around the country. The Lighthouse Uniform Company advises firefighters that names could include Dress Black, Dress Blue, Service Dress Blue or Class A Dress Uniforms. Whatever the name, the uniform is worn as a symbol of honor for occasions like dedications, weddings and funerals. Requirements vary by department. For example, in Winter Park, Florida, the Fire-Rescue guidelines call for a Class A men’s uniform of a dress long-sleeve shirt with all assigned insignia; dress coat, pants and belt; lace-up dress shoes; a bell-toe cap; and white gloves. The Oregon Fire Service Class A uniform consists of a black double-breasted coat with gold buttons; a white long-sleeved dress shirt and black tie; plain black pants; bell hat; and black shoes and socks.
For occasions requiring a polished look but not formal enough for Class A uniforms, the Class B dress uniform provides a measure of professionalism appropriate for a fire station office position, school presentations, dining out or similar environments where an officer may encounter the public. Winter Park’s Class B dress guidelines for men include the same dress shirt, pants and shoes as the Class A uniform; however, the jacket is waived, and no cap or gloves are required. The officer may also wear a white T-shirt under the dress shirt.
The appropriate touches to a Class A dress uniform vary by the guidelines of the local fire department. In Rogers, Arkansas, the coat requires a sleeve braid denoting the officer’s rank and a “Years of Service” Maltese cross sewn on lower half of the left sleeve. In Menasha, Wisconsin, fire officers wear collar insignias of crossed bugles or bars, depending on their particular rank.
No occasion calls for more sobriety in dress than the funeral of a firefighter lost in the line of duty. In Illinois, the Chicago Fire Department Clothing Center provides dress blues suitable for public funeral services. On Christmas Eve in 2010, for example, the store helped more than 500 men and women dress appropriately for the service of two fallen colleagues. Store owner Bob Zwick explained to CBS Chicago that he kept his shop open late just before the holiday -- aiding crew members who needed alterations or finishing touches -- because “it’s extremely important that they be in dress uniform for the funeral.”