Firefighters give free haircuts to low-income students

They save lives, they put out fires and now they're helping to cut hair.

Alexandria and Fairfax County firefighters are sponsoring free "back to school haircuts" this week.

Alexandria Fire Chief Adam Thiel said, “It's great to see the look on a kid's face when they get a haircut.”

The off-duty firefighters transformed Charles Houston Recreation Center in Alexandria into a barber shop and they transformed children into students – ready for a new school year.

“You know mohawks, spikes, stuff like that,” said Fairfax County Fire Technician Cheryl McWilliams. “Kids really love getting a new style. It's a lot of fun for them.”

Whether a previous career or a hobby, a few firefighters – like McWilliams – are also trained hair stylists.

Thiel said, “We all have to keep our hair somewhat short for the job, so it's probably a natural fit.”

With help from some local barbers, they provided free haircuts, clothes and backpacks to hundreds of students on free or reduced lunch plans.

“A lot of us parents who may be economically challenged, you want your child to have everything they need to start the school year off correctly,” said Parent Nisa Harper. “And part of that, has to do with their self image with having a haircut and supplies. It gives them a boost when they go into that school year.”

The organizers also took the opportunity to offer fire safety education.

“We're also handing out coloring books and stickers and other things that help make sure that our message of safety is top of mind for people,” said Thiel.

There was face-painting, popcorn and a clown making balloon animals, but parents said they most appreciated that these firefighters volunteered their time.

“They're giving back. They choose to give back. And that they want to because they understand that we're all a community,” said Harper.

The free haircuts continue Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Gum Springs Community Center in Alexandria.

On Wednesday, they'll do it again from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Southgate Community Center in Reston.