Why Do Firefighters Have Mustaches?


If you’re like me, you watch a lot of Netflix (or Hulu or HBO, you know what I mean). In so many portrayals of firefighters across television shows and movies, many of them have mustaches. Why is this?

Firefighters having mustaches dates to the days before life-saving oxygen masks existed. Back then, firefighters would moisten their mustaches to filter smoke. Today, firefighters that sport mustaches do so out of a sense of brotherhood or even due to a personal preference.

This guide into the fascinating association between firefighters and mustaches will be full of cool information. Make sure you keep reading, as I have lots to talk about ahead! 

The History of Mustaches in Firefighting

Firefighters first began doing the distinguished, important work they do as far back as the second century. Yet breathing apparatuses didn’t exist until 1863.

That’s thousands upon thousands of years that firefighters had to forego oxygen masks and other crucial apparatuses that allowed them to do their jobs without putting their lives quite so much at risk. 

And that’s where mustaches come in.

The logic goes a little something like this. Firefighters of the day would moisten their mustaches with a bit of water and then go into a smoky building. Supposedly, the wet hairs would have functioned as a type of makeshift smoke filter.

This would have allowed the firefighters who had mustaches to do their jobs more efficiently than those without, as the mustached firefighters could spend more time in a burning building. 

Thus, mustaches became a common characteristic of firefighters as much as dalmatian dogs or red suspenders have. 

Why Do Firefighters Have Mustaches Today?

Okay, that explains the origins of mustaches among firefighters back in the day, but like I said in the intro, firefighters still sport mustaches even today. 

It can’t be that they use mustaches to help them breathe, as oxygen tanks and other breathing apparatuses are a dime a dozen anymore. So why are mustaches so synonymous with firefighters? Here are some common reasons. 

Tradition

Although this may not be true of every firefighter, many of them appreciate their roots and embrace tradition whenever possible. 

They respect the huge strides their industry has made over the centuries and that how even when the technology wasn’t there that the firefighters of yore were as dedicated to saving lives as today’s fire departments are.

Wearing a mustache is a way to honor that tradition and keep it alive so that new firefighters and future generations can also grow to respect their firefighting roots. 

Sense of Masculinity

I don’t know about you, but sporting a mustache makes me feel really cool. I’ll talk more in the next section about what mustaches symbolize. Once you read that section, you’ll understand more about why mustaches are desirable among firefighters. 

Brotherhood

The firefighters in a fire department are more than coworkers. They’re friends, and, among many departments, brothers. It’s a relationship that might not be fostered in blood but runs just as deep as any familial bond.

To showcase that brotherhood, firefighters might grow mustaches. You can think of this as solidarity among the fire department. 

According to an article in The New York Times, it was estimated in the mid-1980s that upwards of 40 percent of firefighters at the time were mustached. Imagine how much higher that number may be today! 

Personal Preferences 

As well-established as the history of mustached firefighters is, sometimes, it’s just a coincidence that a firefighter has a mustache. They might have sported a mustache for as far back as they can remember, long before they decided to become a firefighter.

They choose to keep their mustache, and that would be true no matter what job they hold. Without their mustache, they might feel naked or not like how they look as much. The mustache is a part of them. 

What Do Mustaches Symbolize?

The following traits are associated with mustaches. As I mentioned, this can in part explain why some upper lip fuzz is so appealing to firefighters.  

A Sense of Old School

Mustaches have been in and out of trends lists for years now. In 2021, they came back in vogue, but who knows how long that will be the case for?

Part of the mustache’s wavering popularity is that it has an old-school flavor to it that some people get behind and others do not. 

That old school quality of mustaches resonates with firefighters, as it harkens back to the early days of firefighters sporting mustaches to keep them breathing in burning buildings for longer. 

Masculinity

This goes back to what I mentioned before. A guy with a mustache usually has a much more masculine air than one without. Firefighters are tough guys, and with a mustache, they seem even tougher. 

Courage

Here’s an interesting trait that’s been ascribed to mustache wearers: courageousness. Now you can see why mustaches are so fitting for firefighters, as there are few human beings on this earth more courageous than them. 

Strength

Mustaches are also often associated with strength, probably due to the masculinity factor that the facial fuzz has. 

I’ve talked about this on the blog many times, but firefighters are both physically and mentally strong.

They have to be, as it’s a requirement of the job. A firefighter must be able to wear a heavy-duty fire suit to keep themselves protected. They must be capable of carrying a heavy hose line that’s full of pressurized water.

Very importantly, they need to be able to pull out sometimes unconscious or injured people from burning buildings. 

Mentally, a firefighter is as strong as diamonds. They’ve usually experienced great loss and trauma over the course of their careers, but they never let these ghosts from their past stop them from doing an excellent job in the present. 

Are Firefighters Allowed to Grow Mustaches? What About Beards?

You have another important question. Are firefighters even allowed to have mustaches per Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA rules?

Yes, they are, but mustaches are generally the only type of facial hair permitted. OSHA prohibits beards on firefighters for a very good reason. The beard can prevent a firefighter’s oxygen mask from establishing a tight seal. 

In fact, I wrote an entire article about whether firefighters can have beards (click the link to check it out).

Smoky air can then enter the breathing mask, limiting its effectiveness. The firefighter can experience symptoms of smoke inhalation, including chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, sinus irritation, stinging eyes, and coughing.

They can’t do their job, as they’d have to exit the building sooner than later. Plus, that firefighter then becomes a liability to the others on the team. 

This could be yet another reason then why some firefighters choose to grow a mustache. They like having facial hair, but mustaches are usually all that fire departments permit! 

Historically, firefighters had mustaches to help them breathe better in burning buildings before oxygen masks existed. Today, firefighters sport mustaches to harken back to and strengthen those roots as well as to support a sense of brotherhood among fire departments.

Of course, some firefighters just have mustaches due to their personal preference.

No matter your reason for wearing a mustache as a firefighter, if you do have some facial hair on your upper lip, display it with pride!

Mike Pertz

I’m Mike, I’m a full time firefighter/paramedic/diver for a department just west of Cleveland, Ohio and the founder of FirefighterNOW. I’m also a columnist for FireRescue1. If you’re reading this blog my guess is you are interested in the fire service. There's information on fitness, gear, interviews, tests and more. I hope you find what you're looking for.

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