Spokane Valley Fire Department keeping all of its firefighters with vaccine exemptions

SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash.– The Spokane Valley Fire Department isn’t losing a single firefighter with an exemption over the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

It worked out accommodations for the 22 who had a medical or religious exemption approved. The biggest change is those who are unvaccinated and staying on the frontlines will be separated from the rest of the department. They will all be working from stations 1 and 10, where the battalion chiefs are.

“They are going to oversee the testing portion daily, with those crews, so it made sense to do them at those locations, so the battalion chiefs weren’t driving around town, trying to find firefighters spaced out at all ten stations,” said Spokane Valley Fire Chief Bryan Collins.

That’s not the only way the fire department plans on limiting the spread of COVID-19. The exempt firefighters will be tested daily and are required to wear an N95 mask at all times.

These accommodations aren’t cheap. Chief Collins said it will cost the fire department around $50,000 to $65,000 a year. However, Collins said that’s still a better price tag than what it would cost to replace and train 22 firefighters.

“They’re no more at risk than there were before. And frankly, they’re better protected because we’re testing them every day,” Collins said.

Collins said the safety of those they serve won’t be any different on Oct. 19 when the vaccine mandate goes into effect than it is today.

“Ultimately our firefighters understand the responsibility that comes with the uniform and the badge and the position that we hold. And that is, we have a big responsibility to take care of ourselves, our patients, and our citizens in the community,” Collins said.

The deadline for Washington state workers and health care workers to be fully vaccinated is Monday, Oct. 18. If an employee has a medical or religious exemption, it’s up to their employer to decide how to accommodate it. For some departments, there isn’t a way to accommodate frontline workers so they face losing their jobs.

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