Unvaccinated firefighters file $171M tort claims, saying their termination violates civil rights

A group of former King County firefighters who lost their jobs over their objection to the state’s vaccine mandate plan to file suit against their old employer for wrongful termination.

In total, 10 employees who plan to file tort claims seek more than $171 million in damages against Eastside Fire & Rescue.

Former firefighter Rocky Martinez was one of the employees to plead his case with the department, but they wouldn’t accommodate his religious exemption.

Martinez said he feels betrayed by the agency he devoted a life of service and sacrifice to.

"It hurts when I see a unit going by. I should be doing that," Martinez told FOX 13.

His suit alone seeks more than $15 million in lost future wages and other damages.

During an Eastside Fire and Rescue board meeting on Thursday, more firefighters pleaded their case, saying they would rather stay with the department and work.

Firefighter of 18 years in east King County fired due to state's COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Ten firefighters in east King County are now out of a job-- they were let go from Eastside Fire & Rescue on Monday because they are not vaccinated against COVID-19.

"All we want to do is come back. This is not just a job for us that we’ve put years for training in-- it’s a calling," said former captain Frank Dahlquist.  

It wasn’t only firefighters pleading – neighbor Michael Butcher shared his thoughts, asking to do away with the department’s policy of vaccine mandates or face termination.  

"COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate. Discrimination in employment is illegal. We all have equal opportunity to get it-- no reason to discriminate anybody on their status," Butcher said.  

Some former employees are volunteering in neighboring jurisdictions – and others are making bigger changes, like Martinez, who said his family is leaving the state over the issue.

In a statement, the fire chief said the agency is "prioritizing health and safety for the community abiding by the governor’s vaccine mandate" – and that the department is cooperating with investigators from the equal employment opportunity commission.

He also said the department would not comment on any pending legal action.