Nearly 50 Spokane firefighters face losing their jobs over vaccine mandate

SPOKANE, Wash — The Spokane Fire Department granted 48 vaccine exemptions, but those firefighters could still lose their jobs.

The city says it came down to public safety and there was no other alternative for those who didn’t get the shot.

“The determination was made that it was too risky to accommodate in the job of hire, based upon the risk to the public and the risk to fire department employees, so that’s where we’re at,” said Brian Coddington, spokesperson for the City of Spokane.

The city promises it won’t affect calls to 911.

“There’s an ability to accommodate within the existing staffing through overtime and other shifting changes to be able to make that happen,” he said.

Providing adequate PPE has been enough for firefighters during the pandemic, but Coddington explained they’ve still been putting people at risk.

“We’ve seen the PPEs have been in place during the duration of the pandemic,” Coddington said. “Even though all those safeguards have been taken, and followed to the letter, based upon the guidance in place at the time, there’s still been a significant impact to the fire department.”

The significant impact includes millions of dollars the city has paid between 2020 and 2021 in overtime and paid-time during quarantine. In 2021, fire overtime, quarantine, and workers compensations cost exceeded $1 million through the first eight months. They also lost 3,063 hours to quarantine and 1,876 hours to confirmed job-related positive cases through the first eight months this year.

Beyond the costs and time lost, they also considered the costs of regular COVID-testing and even putting all those unvaccinated in one fire station.

Ultimately, they would still be putting the city at risk, Coddington said.

“You’d be in a situation potentially where a firefighter could not or an emergency responder could not respond to the call, or could not get out of the truck, or could not be on the scene. That puts the department at a severe disadvantage and the community at a severe disadvantage.”

The city gave the firefighters impacted six options:

  1. Essential Function Layoff
  2. Leave Without Pay*
  3. Resignation
  4. Retirement
  5. Separation
  6. Paid Leave*

*These options are only for those who won’t be vaccinated by the Oct. 18 deadline. Those who chose leave without pay can do so to delay other alternatives.

Firefighters can apply for other positions within the city where the mandate doesn’t apply. We won’t know how many of these firefighters choose to leave until the end of November at the earliest.

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