Your uniform says a lot about you and your organization. Personal appearance and hygiene always need to be kept in mind. The way others see you — the public, fellow employees, and others that you associate with in your line of work — can make a statement based on first impressions and beyond.

Those who served in the military were taught how to keep uniforms, personal belongings and the place called home for the time being in proper order. These values and traditions carry on throughout life.

Even though I never served in the military (my dream was to be a pilot), I was always involved in some activity that required me to wear a uniform. It started with the Civil Air Patrol as a cadet, band in junior high and high school years, then onto the fire department. In the Civil Air Patrol and while in the fire department, I participated in the honor/color guard.

These affiliations taught me about shining shoes (how to spit shine), how to iron my own shirts and add starch. I learned how to polish brass buttons, line up the front of the shirt with your belt and pants zipper (a gig line). Also addressed: getting rid of any dangling strings, and eliminating the "hills and valleys" under your name badge and ribbons or any other badges worn on your shirt pockets.

To get rid of the "hills and valleys," I was taught to put a piece of cardboard shaped the same way as the name tag or other ornament and attach it on the inside of the shirt, then place the clasps over the pins through the cardboard.

What also helped was pushing the pin or spike of the name tag, etc., all the way through the retaining clasp, even if it meant making a small hole through the clasp. Pencil erasers also work in a pinch if you lose a clasp and have no spares. All this was done to pass inspection.

Depending on your protocol, one rule applied to where the crease should be (if any) for the patches on your uniform shirt. The crease had to line up with the crease of the epaulet.

The fire department never had such a rule; however, I preferred not to have any crease, so the patch remained flat and not folded or creased. There is no doubt that these days most uniformed employees probably take their uniforms to the dry cleaners.

Still, we need to have enough knowledge to direct the dry cleaner on how exactly you want your uniforms treated. Back in Civil Air Patrol, when we wore fatigues, we would tell the dry cleaner to add "heavy" starch.

This takes a toll on the material, but what it does accomplish is that the uniform holds up better to keep it free from wrinkles for longer periods. We would say that "it didn’t have enough starch in it unless it can stand up by itself." I remember having to "peel" apart the shirt sleeves and pant legs to get into them.

These uniform tips and tricks apply to the dress or Class "A" uniforms. In the early days that is all we would wear when on duty. We can all acknowledge that Firefighting is a “dirty” occupation, especially when a fire occurs.

Therefore, we have adopted a more casual “working” uniform than the dress uniform. Many departments have adopted “polo” shirts that are embroidered, along with BDU style pants that allow for more practicality, partially because of more pockets, and the "ripstop" features they have.

Regardless, even these more "casual" uniforms need to look presentable. It looks sloppy when crew members arrive on a scene with their shirts untucked, shoes scuffed up (and which look like they have never seen shoe polish since the first day worn). It really does not look very professional and does not leave a good impression.

Those that have had success in their careers, if you notice, for the most part, always look "spit and polished" (hair groomed, clean shaven, pressed uniforms, shoes shined, and hopefully non-offensive body odors).

These "career" people carry a certain pride and always act professional; they "walk the walk and talk the talk." They have a presence that demands respect, plus they are kind and compassionate to others. They are good listeners and have great communication skills. Many things can be said about a person by their body language, and this all starts with a first impression and the way you dress.

Our department had a "grooming" committee that created policy. They had regular meetings. This policy was a requirement for all to know. Recruits would need to pass exams about the policy, and it was required study material for those taking promotional exams to become an officer.

The policy covered such issues as hair length and/or ponytails, body piercings, necklaces, earrings, mustache size and parameters, beards (if your department allowed them), and general appearance. It addressed the hours certain uniforms could be worn around the station or the type for public demos.

It also addressed a person’s appearance when on fire department apparatus — for example, never in shorts. All in all, be proud of what you do and leave a lasting impression on those you serve, especially the young people who one day may aspire to become public servants!