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Should Pregnant Firefighters Be Allowed To Work?

In Florida, controversy has been brewing over whether pregnant volunteer firefighters should have to take the same demanding physical tests that their colleagues are mandated to do.

Volusia County, Florida, recently required that all volunteer firefighters take a physical test, or loose their jobs. The county won’t guarantee if pregnant firefighters who refuse the test would keep their jobs. Currently, the county is in negotiations with the local firefighter’s union over the issue.

In America, there are 4,000 full-time female firefighters, plus an estimated 40,000 seasonal, part time and volunteer firefighters, so issues regarding pregnancy and firefighting are not new.

In 2006, two pregnant firefighters in Portsmouth, Virginia, considered suing their department, when it offered them the choice of either staying on duty and fighting fires, or going on unpaid leave. The women both asked for light duties during their pregnancies, and were refused.

In other cases, pregnant firefighters have continued fighting fires, at their own free choice, until “their jackets wouldn’t button“.

Many fire departments across the USA do offer pregnant women light duties, and most expectant firefighters do non-hazardous firefighting work until after their babies are born. Policies vary between departments, some departments do allow pregnant firefighters to answer calls. And in others, pregnant firefighters who want to keep going out on calls as long as possible often don’t tell their fire chief until it’s blatantly obvious that they are pregnant.

I’m not a firefighter, so I can’t speak from experience. And I believe that healthy pregnant women can do just about anything a non-pregnant woman can. Discriminating against a pregnant woman is wrong. But I think this is about the health of the baby as well as the mother.

I just can’t imagine it’s a good idea for a pregnant woman to be on active duty. Fighting fires is hazardous, firefighters are exposed to smoke, gases and noxious chemicals. Climbing ladders, falling objects in structure fires, other cars in road accidents. Being pregnant affects balance, mobility, and with a big belly in the way, surely even the most experience female firefighter is at greater risk while pregnant?

No-one in their right mind would take a newborn infant to a car wreck, or into a house fire. So why would a pregnant woman want to expose her fetus to the same risk?

What do you think? I am being totally old-fashioned and sexist? Should female firefighters be allowed to work while pregnant?

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