The county’s next pregnant firefighter may not have to worry about going into labor while battling fires.
A new policy for pregnant firefighters, creating a light-duty option, has been proposed by the county. It needs ratification by the International Association of Firefighters Local 2201 and the County Commission.
The work of pregnant firefighters has been at issue since March 6, when the firefighters union asked the county to create a light-duty option, specifically for Nicole Morris, a firefighter who was eight months pregnant.
County Commissioners said they couldn’t alter the union contract.
Now, the proposed policy would remove pregnancy as a condition ineligible for light or restricted duty. The county’s current policy allows restricted duty only for firefighters injured on the job.
The county offered the policy, a change in the current union contract, last week during negotiations over cost-of-living increases and changes involving a new fire station, union President John O’Connor said.
“It’s a huge step in the right direction,” O’Connor said.
Morris — a 10-year engineer and firefighter-paramedic — was still responding to fire calls when she was eight months pregnant. Indian River County is one of two Florida counties without a light-duty option.
It’s tough working while pregnant, Morris told commissioners. It’s also dangerous to her unborn child, to her co-workers who are concerned about her well-being and to those she is supposed to be helping, she said.
“They’re going to feel like they need to take care of me,” she said. “At this point, it’s becoming a major, major challenge.”
Two days later, Morris went into preterm labor. Eventually, she was allowed a light-duty option and finished her pregnancy stationed at the county Emergency Operations Center.
On April 28, Morris gave birth to 5-pound, 14-ounce Chloe Noelle, and now is on maternity leave.
County Administrator Jason Brown said the county wanted to implement a uniform policy for all pregnant firefighters so the issue doesn’t have to be addressed on an individual basis.
“It would provide certainty for any of our employees who get pregnant,” Brown said.
O’Connor, who said he was unaware if any firefighters currently are pregnant, hoped the union members would approve the contract change.
Firefighter Christen Brewer — one of 14 women on the 250-member force — said the change would be an important step.
“It could eventually lead to something big,” she said. “That’s the hope, that it does lead to more progress.”