Veteran Seattle firefighter empties locker after city denies vaccine exemption

The Seattle Fire Department insists public safety will remain a top priority even though dozens of first responders could lose their should they choose to not vaccinate against COVID.

Seattle city officials say as of Wednesday, about 88% of the department’s employees have been vaccinated, but that means dozens of first responders are at risk of losing their jobs. One firefighter cleared out his locker on Thursday, ending a 16-year long career at the department. 

Josh Gibbs rushed towards danger during some of the worst crises in our region including the deadly Ride the Ducks crash and the Oso mudslide. Gibbs says he wants to stay with the department, but he says the city won't accommodate his request for religious exemption.

"I’m very angry but I’m trying to hold it together for my family," he said fighting back tears. "The bitter-sweet part is that it’s ending here where it started."

Gibbs is a Marine veteran and career firefighter working out of Seattle Fire Department Station 14. 

RELATED: Seattle FD makes contingency plans for handling emergencies as vaccine deadline approaches

Gibbs received a letter Wednesday from the city denying his request for accommodation. He spent Thursday cleaning out his locker.

"It’s like something is being ripped away," he said. "Everything in my soul tells me it’s wrong."

The city says for Gibbs and others in similar roles, approving exemption requests would be nearly impossible when trying to avoid interactions with those who cannot take the vaccine. Seattle Fire says it does not have an alternative vacant position available.

Thursday, Gibbs walks with the help of crutches. He is recovering from hip surgery related to a work injury, he said. 

A small bag was all that Gibbs was able to handle while shuffling out of the station on Thursday. He and his wife hold onto hope the city will relax the vaccine mandate.

"This is my last cry for help," he said. 

A Seattle Fire Department spokesperson said Chief Scoggins would speak publicly Monday to detail the number of employees who had not met the vaccination deadline. 

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