In Brevard County, Florida the city of Rockledge is wrestling with an issue that fire departments across the country have dealt with. If your policy is to allow firefighters injured off-duty to be given non-firefighting assignments until they are fit for duty, should you do the same for those who become pregnant?
Firefighter Geri Miller has gone public with that question in a TV interview after the city’s lone female firefighter, four months pregnant, says the fire chief forced her to go on maternity leave. We are only getting one side of this story because neither the chief or city officials will comment, telling WFTV-TV they don’t want to see personnel grievances on “trial in the media”.
“I’m not looking for preferable treatment,” said Miller. “I’m not looking for that. I’m looking to be treated fairly.”
The city fire department’s union agreement gives “up to 180 days of unpaid leave” for maternity, but said nothing about what kind of work pregnant firefighters should get until they take maternity leave.
Miller said male firefighters were given light duty after being injured off-duty.
“If you can give light duty to someone else, why can’t you give light duty to me?” asked Miller.
It isn’t like fire departments with more than one woman on the job necessarily have the right answer to the pregnancy issue either. In the Nation’s Capital, the DC Fire & EMS Department found itself publicly dealing with its pregnancy policy on at least three different occasions in a little more than a decade. The most recent when Chief Kenneth Ellerbe’s administration in 2011 sparked controversy over a similar issue about light duty. Female firefighters made the case that DC police officers could get desk duty when pregnant, but firefighters were told to go home after 30 days of light duty. Chief Ellerbe was forced to change his policy after it made the news.
A previous DC fire chief had an absolutely mind boggling policy of ordering female applicants to take pregnancy tests and dealt with claims that a supervisor was telling rookie EMS employees to have an abortion or lose you job. As you can imagine, Chief Ronnie Few’s policy quickly went down in flames after I reported that story. There was also an earlier case of a female paramedic who wanted to stay on full duty and keep riding much longer than the fire chief wanted her to.
My point in bringing this up is that despite decades of women riding fire trucks this is still an issue for a number of fire departments. If your department is struggling with a policy, there are plenty departments that have come up the right answer that you can learn from. Not having a clear and fair policy will likely bring your department a fair amount of bad publicity.
And if your policy is clear and fair, get out there and make sure the public understands it. If you can’t or won’t defend a pregnancy policy or any other issue publicly when questions arise, maybe it’s time to change that policy and move on.
Also on STATter911 …
- Two DC firefighters accused by female firefighter of sexual assault. Two supervisors’ actions are part of the investigation. – June 3, 2013
- Detroit’s Charlie LeDuff faces camera after drunken weekend fight. Complaint to police says reporter urinated in public & bit security guard. – March 14, 2013
- Facebook problems in the Nation’s Capital. Five DC firefighters taken off the street for comments about police. – May 14, 2013
- Police say OH fire investigator involved in on-duty road rage incident with gun. Columbus Fire gun policies again under scrutiny. – January 11, 2013
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