Firefighter Pregnancy: Why is this so hard?

By: Marcela Donovan-Hammond, Guest Blogger and Fire Marshal

Note From Chief Avsec: Pregnancy and firefighters continues to be an important topic that still needs to be addressed in too many fire departments. But then again, the U.S. Senate just had a public debate about whether to change Senate floor rules to allow children in the chamber while the Senate was in session so that new Mom, Senator Tammy Duckworth, could breast feed her newborn daughter while on the job for her constituents in Illinois. So, here in her own words, is Fire Marshal Marcela Donovan-Hammond’s story.

When I was hired as a full-time career firefighter at the age of twenty-five, I already had three children.  My first husband and I started our family very young, before my career at the fire service.  I never expected to have more children, but years later I remarried and had three more children.

pregnancy and firefighters

Fire Marshal Donovan-Hammond with Damaris Hota, a student at Joplin college in Missouri, for whom she serves as a mentor.

I was the first woman firefighter in my fire department, the Nogales (Ariz.) Fire Department, and the first to become pregnant, and when the department did not have a pregnancy policy in place.  I was fortunate enough that my fire chief at the time, Chief Dennis Van Auken, was an experienced chief who retired from a larger department; he’d previously helped manage the first wave of women firefighters to join the Tucson (Ariz.) Fire Department.

Breaking New Ground

I disclosed my pregnancy as soon as I found out since we didn’t really know how we were going to deal with it.  Chief Van Auken was very supportive and immediately said that we would adopt a policy to mirror that of the department he came from.  Everything was fine; however, the City Administration was not very cooperative at the time but they ended up adopting the policy and everything was great.

The Policy Gets Its First Test

I went on light-duty assignment early on due to complications.  However, my pay was not equal to when I was doing shift work. I ended up taking a 40 percent pay cut throughout my pregnancy. My pay didn’t return to its normal amount until after I returned from maternity leave.  The only maternity time available was FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) leave.

Pregnant Firefighters: What Men and Women Need to Know

Pregnancy Number Two, A Different Scenario

Fire Marshal Donovan-Hammond out in the field and behind the wheel.

Since I didn’t have any complications and my OB/GYN physician had treated pregnant women from larger metropolitan departments, he allowed me to stay on shift up until my twentieth week of pregnancy. After that I went on light duty for the rest of my pregnancy and my salary was not adjusted, I kept receiving my regular paycheck. This time the City gave me an option to buy into a short-term disability policy that covered pregnancy, which I did.  This allowed me to take time off and I was able to be with my newborn until he was four months old.  Like my earlier pregnancy, I was required to again pass a physical agility test and be cleared by the fire department physician to return to full duty.”

Third Time, Not a Charm

Pregnancy number three, we had a change in administration and things took a turn for the worse.  The environment was very hostile, and the short-term disability policy was no longer available to me.  The only two choices at the time were the 12 weeks of FMLA or leave without pay. I combined the 12 weeks of FMLA and six months of leave without pay.

I had no choice but to return six weeks after the birth of my child. And once again the department subjected me to the same fitness standards as my earlier pregnancies before returning to work. Now I don’t object to being physically fit, I believe that it is necessary, however I wished I had a little more time to prepare.

More “Hurdles”

Each time I returned from the birth of one of my children, even though I had passed the physical ability test and all the requirements, the crew members I had to work with subjected to me to their own “tests” where I had to “prove” to them  that I was capable of doing my job.

I believe that Federal Law does not provide adequate protection to women in the fire service. In other public safety careers, e.g., it can be easier for a woman to either continue working their normal job or switch to another unit where they can get light duty.  For us firefighters, it is much harder, especially if you are in a smaller department.  Those light-duty opportunities are just not available.

After Birth Issues

firefighter pregnancy

Fire Marshal “Mom” with her daughter, Emily, at a fire department function.

Nursing rooms are not available. Not just in my department, but in many other metropolitan cities that have not made adequate accommodations yet. Many will say the bathroom is an adequate place to pump breast milk. But to me, the bathroom is not the proper place for me to pump the breast milk that I will feed my newborn child.  To me, it’s like cooking my meal in the bathroom.  Usually municipalities are not agreeing to retrofit stations claiming the additional cost and budget shortages.

I think the hard lessons that we have learned from the past have helped change things for the better for future firefighter mothers to come.  The administration that I currently work for is a friendly receptive environment and I think that for a new firefighter who becomes a mother, would have a much easier situation to handle. So, with all the troubles I experienced I feel it was worth it if it helps shape the future for others.

I am very thankful that my career in the fire service allowed me to be a mother and fulfill my career dreams. I have had the opportunity to volunteer and attend to my children while having a career where I can make a difference in my community.

About the Author

Marcela Hammond is an 18-year member of with the City of Nogales Fire Department where now serves as the Fire Marshal. She’s also a full-time Mom for: Alex, 24; Matthew, 20;  Katie, 19; Bailey, 13; Jackson, 11; and Emily 8 yrs

 

 

 

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About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for FireRescue1.com and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec and his wife of 30+ years now make their home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, rpa1157@gmail.com.