Several Spokane firefighters out of a job over vaccine mandate

SPOKANE, Wash. — Several Spokane firefighters are out of a job following Monday’s deadline to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

The city has not announced the exact number of those who will be fired from their positions but said 52 firefighters filed for exemptions from the mandate. Of those, 14 ended up withdrawing those requests and seven people had until 5 p.m. Monday to make a declaration. 

An additional 12 of those 52 firefighters are seeking vaccinations, but need more time. 

City Spokesman Brian Coddington said one-sixth of the department requested vaccine exemptions, which is a larger percentage than most other departments across the state. 

In the days ahead, the City of Spokane told us it will cover this lapse with over-time, and shifting their traditional staffing plan. Long-term, they have a solution already in place.

“There are fire academies that have been preplanned and we will be hiring back firefighters,” explained Coddington.

Coddington said a lot of consideration went into the difficult decision.

“We looked at what accommodations could be made, N-95 mask at a very minimum, in the totality of a 24-hour shift whether you’re sleeping, in the kitchen, in the bays, on a call, we looked at venues around town that are looking at vaccination as a piece of entry, and whether or not they could respond and what that would do the response from that particular station or unit and we looked at testing, availability of testing, frequency of testing, the cost of testing,” Coddington said.

The risk was too high, especially for the public, that firefighters work to serve.

“The big concern is when you’re interacting with the public. If you’re responding to an emergency medical call, that’s an interaction when the person is at their most vulnerable, and you’re typically in very very close contact with that person as you’re doing whatever care is needed, in that particular moment,” said Coddington.

They’re trying to keep firefighters walking away in good standing.

“If at any point in time, if they complete the vaccination requirements, or the vaccine mandates gets lifted, they can come back to the city in good standing,” Coddington explained.

Surrounding agencies did accommodate some of their exemption, such as the Spokane Valley Fire Department. However, the City of Spokane says, the volume of requests that came from Spokane’s Fire Department was too high.

Last week, a group of Spokane firefighters filed a lawsuit over the mandate. It named Mayor Nadine Woodward, Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer, and the City of Spokane as defendants. 

Twenty-five firefighters named in the lawsuit say the mandate violates their civil rights. It also claims “The mayor, the fire chief, and the City of Spokane refuse to provide religious or medical accommodations for the city’s firefighters, despite accepting their exemptions, to the arbitrary demand that they become vaccinated by October 18, 2021.” 

Read more about the lawsuit here. 

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