FEDERAL WAY, Wash. - Some front-line workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic won't be allowed to provide patients care and could be at the risk of getting fired due to a new policy for South King Fire and Rescue employees.
The South King Fire and Rescue Board of Commissioners issued a vaccination policy for firefighters and staff who are unvaccinated. This is in coordination with Washington’s vaccine mandate for all state employees.
Deadlines are quickly approaching for staff members to make a decision on getting their doses.
During a meeting on Aug. 27, commissioners determined any firefighter or staff member who isn’t fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 will no longer be allowed to serve patients face-to-face and could risk termination.
IAFF 2024, the local union, wrote a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee, saying they "agree the vaccine plays a crucial role in stopping the spread." But union members "oppose the mandate" saying it violates "their own decisions on personal health matters."
Ryan Herrera, union president, said several members are worried about losing their jobs. He said members feel like state and local leaders are "turning their backs on the people who risked and continuing risking their own lives since the beginning of this pandemic."
About 74% of staff at South King Fire and Rescue are vaccinated against COVID-19. There are mixed feelings in the community for the remaining unvaccinated employees.
"It’s a shame they’re not vaccinated. You deal with people, you know? They should show an example," said Will Fredo, who supports the vaccine mandate.
"I feel like if they’re wearing their mask and if they’re going to save my life, I’m ok with it," said Rosie Donaldson-Kirby, who said she is concerned about public safety. "To lose their job, I don’t think that’s fair especially if they’ve served for so long to their community—this is what they do, they’re the ones that are going to save the lives."
South King Fire and Rescue has several stations in south King County, including eight stations serving in Federal Way, Des Moines and Auburn. Department leaders said around 80% of their service calls have some level of patient care.
Department leaders said they are negotiating with union members to reach an agreement, "taking into consideration all aspects of public safety." In a written statement, they continued saying, "We want the communities we serve and protect to rest assured that we will continue to arrive and provide the professional emergency services that they have come to know and expect."
Some people wonder if a compromise could be made.
"Have some type of other protective gear to go in and serve their people and save their lives," said Donaldson-Kirby.
"At this point, I don’t think it’s a choice anymore. We’re in a pandemic," said Brenda Santos, who supports the vaccine mandate. "That’s how I think people need to start seeing it. There’s no more choice, even though we don’t like that, it’s the reality we’re living at this moment."
Staff members in the governor’s office said they have received several letters from fire unions across the state including one from IAFF 2024. In a written statement, representatives from the governor’s office said:
The governor’s vaccine requirements do not violate anyone’s rights as an employee. Medical freedoms do include the right to not be exposed to workplace hazards like COVID. Employees covered by these requirements have the choice: employment where they currently are, or leave to work for an employer that didn’t choose to do everything it could to protect workers, customers and their communities.
Like a growing number of employers in the public and private sectors, we recognize vaccination is safe, effective and the only tool we have to get us out of the current pandemic as fast as possible. We’re not reinventing the wheel here: Vaccine requirements have been around for generations and for very good reason.
The South King Fire and Rescue Board of Commissioners said those who chose the Moderna vaccine have until Sept. 6 to get their first dose. Anyone who wants Pfzier has until Sept. 13 to start their vaccine initiation. The Johnson and Johnson shot deadline is Oct. 4. All South King Fire and Rescue staff must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.
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