Just a few months ago, South King Fire and Rescue (SKFR) Lt. Ann Hoag and Firefighter Amanda Weed posed for a photo wearing bunker gear in front of an engine at Station 63. They each held up an ultrasound photo, bellies rounded.
On March 9, the two first responders posed for a similar photo — this time holding their babies, who were born just a week apart the month prior. Weed’s baby was two weeks early, Hoag’s baby was one week late.
“As soon as I found out, I was emailing HR … because there wasn’t a policy. We did not have a policy on pregnancy,” Hoag said in a recent interview while holding her son, Flynn, in a baby blanket covered in red fire engines.
South King Fire’s original policy, Hoag said, was geared more toward male firefighters and fathers: if a child was born while the firefighter was on shift, they were able to take the rest of the shift and their following shift off.
While accommodating fathers, the policy did not address female firefighters becoming pregnant or giving birth while employed with the department.
“While the district has employed female firefighters for decades, this is the first time it has experienced a pregnancy for one of our firefighters,” said Capt. Brad Chaney, public information officer for SKFR.
Chaney said the department’s realization that a new policy was needed came after the firefighters’ pregnancy announcements.
“Our top priority is to provide our employees with the support they need to do their best work, which includes accommodating their needs during pregnancy,” he said. “We were thrilled to work collaboratively on this new policy and enable our employees to continue to bring value to the district and their growing families.”
Hoag worked with the HR department to develop the policy, which was also modeled closely after Renton Regional Fire Authority’s policy on pregnancy, and gave feedback each step of the way. Conversations began in the summertime and official policies were approved by the Board of Commissioners in November 2022.
“We wanted to make sure we involved the voices of the women who are in this organization,” said Nikki Ball, Human Resources generalist, on putting together the policy. “Our voices are stolen in enough places and this is not one that needs to be added to.”
They went down the list of every woman in the organization — regardless of age or department — to help develop the policy and figure out the desires, dislikes and what is legally compliant.
“The main goal was a policy that set some parameters, but really, gave women the choice of what feels right for their body,” said Sherese Gamble, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and workforce development program manager for SKFR. The department wanted to keep policies “flexible” in terms of leaving the length and intensity of continuing to work up to the woman, her choice and her doctor’s recommendations, Gamble said.
As the policy was being developed, its accommodations were still offered to the women. And, it’s open to evolving as the needs of the department’s pregnant members change.
“I was super anxious to let anyone know that I was pregnant,” said Weed, who waited until she was about 24 weeks pregnant to share the news. From then on, “I was extremely supported. … I wish I had said something sooner.”
Weed has been with SKFR for three years. She gave birth to her daughter, Parker, in early February. Weed also has two kids, ages 6 and 7.
Her hesitancy, which Hoag also concurred with, developed out of the gendered stereotypes that can still persist in the fire industry today as a whole.
“I didn’t want to be treated differently at work or on calls or anything like that,” Weed said. “And ultimately, I wasn’t. … I was supported however I needed to be. If I needed help, I got help. If I was fine, I wasn’t restricted from doing things I wanted to do.”
About 4% of firefighters in the U.S. are women, according to the Department of Labor and the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF)
A lack of data remains on female firefighters overall and especially pregnant firefighters. Often female firefighters have children before joining the fire service, or choose not to have children. The lack of data also exists for fire service-related cancers for women, such as breast cancer or ovarian cancer.
Without data, the awareness for policies protecting affected firefighters doesn’t exist.
Both women recalled working on a large fire at an apartment complex in late July 2022 while pregnant.
Hoag was on the roof doing vertical ventilation in high temperatures and a dangerous situation. Weed was doing medical services on the ground, but both first responders were still subjected to the toxic fumes of a building on fire.
According to the IAFF, data results shows that responding to a fire, the contamination and toxins exposure can lead to an increased chance of miscarriage, and nursing mothers may need to pump and dump for several hours after the fire incident.
Both SKFR firefighters delivered healthy babies.
Hoag said she felt a bit of pressure as the first pregnant firefighter at the department to set a precedent because she didn’t know Weed was also pregnant yet.
After she began telling her colleagues, Hoag said a lot of people were more uncomfortable than she was and concerned for the fetus’s safety.
“As a woman in the fire service, you already have to overcome that, ‘oh, well, can you do as much as the guys can?’ and so you always have to prove something and always have to do more and be better to even be considered equal,” Hoag said.
As light duty, Hoag and Weed moved to the fire marshal’s office around winter for the last remaining months of their pregnancies.
“If I started feeling like I needed any special accommodations to work, I needed to get off [the line] and go to light duty because I didn’t feel like I could support my own weight on shift,” Weed said. Her last shift was on Thanksgiving.
If an employee is unable to perform regular duties due to pregnancy or childbirth or related medical issue, the employee is treated similarly to a temporarily disabled employee, according to the new policy in South King Fire’s policy manual.
It reads: “A pregnant employee shall not be involuntarily transferred to a modified-duty assignment,” and that the pregnant employee has the right to a modified-duty assignment as well. There’s no hard cut-off date for when pregnant firefighters should come off the line, switch to light duty or require other modifications.
“I feel like it leaves a lot of the decision-making up to the person going through the pregnancy,” said Weed.