Fire Headlines Podcast Icon - Health

Female Firefighters & Pregnancy

June 7, 2023

22

An article from the Daily Dispatch shares one Washington state fire department’s impetus for establishing new policies; two employees gave birth during the same month. Organizational psychologist Dr. Andrew Holter joins Chiefs Bob Horton and Jeff Buchanan to discuss the importance of inclusive workplaces and supportive work environments.

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Explore the importance of supporting female firefighters and EMS workers during pregnancy by adapting policies in the latest episode of Fire Headlines by the WFCA.

An article from the Daily Dispatch shares one Washington state fire department’s impetus for establishing new policies; two employees gave birth during the same month. The fire department had policies for paternity leave but not maternity leave. Fire department leadership worked with a consultant to request feedback from female employees throughout the department to help inform their updated policy, which they hope will serve as a template for other fire departments. Organizational psychologist Dr. Andrew Holter joins Chiefs Bob Horton and Jeff Buchanan to discuss the importance of inclusive workplaces and supportive work environments.

Women in the Fire Service

The fire service industry is a male-dominated field, and there are many examples of discrimination against women due to the small number who work in this field. Jeff shares his experience learning from female colleagues about difficulties they faced in working in a male-dominated field. He was amazed to learn that women in the fire service have to wear men’s clothes because there are not clothing options for women available. Firefighter presumptive cancer laws, which give disability benefits for firefighters who get cancer while on the job, did not previously cover female reproductive organ cancers in firefighters because there was not enough data proving firefighting caused cancer in that population. There are changes in progress, but Bob, Jeff, and Dr. Holter all express their shock that an inclusive pregnancy policy was not in place already.

Bob encourages any fire service listeners to implement a pregnancy policy in their fire department. The policy described in the article drew on Renton Regional Fire Authority’s policy on pregnancy, if an example is needed.

Inclusive Workplaces

Dr. Holter notes that the firefighters’ concern about sharing their pregnancies with their employers signals that it is not an inclusive environment. Jeff agrees, saying, “In order to tackle some of these thorny problems that are out there for fire organizations, and all organizations, you need to build an ecosystem where there’s psychological safety. Where there is a place of comfort where you can put policy forward that might be nontraditional, that may go against the grain, […] may get pushback. And how do you create that environment? It seems simple but it’s not easy.”

Dr. Holter works with fire departments to build more inclusive workplaces where employees feel empowered to share their experiences. He says, “Even when everyone’s on the same page and wants the same things and are pretty united, people naturally just have [an] avoidance of that shame that comes along with maybe sharing something or going out on a limb or taking a risk and they don’t want to fail, and they don’t want to be exposed. And so, when you talk about psychological safety, […] what it is, is that ability to have vulnerability-based trust with the people on your team or within your organization.” While it takes effort and can be uncomfortable, it is important to make people feel welcome in the emergency services field by building a more diverse, inclusive culture.

You can email Fire Headlines at [email protected].

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