A Canary in a Coal Mine

By:  Robert Avsec

I’d like to quickly “dig a little deeper” on the subject of my last posting regarding the fire department Pregnant Firefighter 2in Connecticut that unilaterally placed a female firefighter on unpaid leave because she became pregnant.  If you’ve not been back since reading the original post, I suggest that you take another look–all the way down on the page to the Comments section–and take in the remarks made by my colleague, Linda Willing.  Another reader, Bob (BTW, nice name!), made comment on Linda’s additional information:

Yah [sic], but what’s reasonable? I would think the woman in this case would want to be upfront and honest about her condition and accept the consequences rather than put her co-workers, baby, self, and public at risk.  There are already plenty of people who think women should not be firefighters so when a woman hides her pregnancy (or a man hides a condition which similarly puts people and self at risk) it is simply bad for everyone.

I couldn’t agree with you more on that last point, Bob.  Why does any firefighter (man or woman) hide a physical condition that may have a negative impact on their welfare or the welfare of their co-workers?  I believe in many cases it’s because:

  • They need to keep working so that they keep getting paid;Firefighter pulling hose
  • The work culture in many fire and EMS departments doesn’t support the use of sick leave (especially when the individual uses a lot of sick leave and they choose not to explain why to their co-workers and the department is prohibited from doing so).  In the absence of information, the rumor mill starts “cranking out” misinformation which is always directed towards the individual, right? See, How to Create an Atmosphere that Supports Motivation in Your Department.
  • There is a lack of communication and trust throughout an organization.  Trust is earned by people and organizations when they make promises and keep promises.  For organizations, they make those “promises” in the form of the policies and procedures that they put in place, especially those that directly impact the good and welfare of their people. (See, Curators of the Organizational Culture,

Canary in a coal mineI don’t profess to know all the details of the Connecticut case and it will likely be years–after all the litigation has run its course–before anyone outside of the case gets the whole picture.  One thing that I do believe is that cases like this are to Fire and EMS leadership and management what the “a canary dying in a coal mine” meant to coal miners underground.

Indulge me as I share one more link to a previous post, What is the Cost of Failure?  I’ll wait here while you take a look at that post…

So, what do you think will be the cost of failure for that fire department?

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 makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, rpa1157@gmail.com.