About 260 Kent-based Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority (RFA) firefighters, emergency medical technicians and nurses will be required to comply with Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate to be vaccinated by Oct. 18.
“All impacted employees are required to comply with the directive, but may seek a medical or religious exemption as outlined in the proclamation,” said Brian Carson, Puget Sound Fire assistant chief in charge of operations, in an Aug. 27 email. “The RFA is still working to address the impacts of this directive, including any potential accommodations it can provide for exempted employees.”
The mandate prohibits health care workers from working if they have not been vaccinated.
“The RFA intends to retain all personnel,” Carson said. “Of those subject to the mandate, approximately 80% are already in compliance. But RFA employees have until Oct. 4 to submit proof of vaccination, so it’s not yet known whether staff members may choose to leave because of the mandate. The proclamation has indeed generated significant debate at all levels of the organization.”
Kent Firefighters Local 1747, which represents Puget Sound Fire firefighters who serve Kent, Covington, SeaTac and Maple Valley, has not issued any public statements about the mandate. The union has not responded to several emails from the Kent Reporter for comment about the mandate.
Puget Sound Fire leaders plan to enforce Inslee’s directive.
“With approximately 340 total employees, it is fair to say that all viewpoints are represented to some extent among our members,” Carson said. “But we remain focused as an organization on compliance with the directive, addressing the needs of the communities we serve and protecting our employees.”
Carson said RFA leadership is communicating daily with other fire service leaders, public health, local government and its firefighter and nurses unions to address the impacts of this change.
“We will have more information available as we move through this unique situation,” Carson said.
Emergency responses to potential COVID-19 patients in RFA communities have been steadily rising again over the last several weeks, Carson said. The delta varient has increased cases across King County and the state.
“Personnel don appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) based on the information that they receive while en route,” Carson said. “At a minimum crews will arrive wearing gloves, masks and eye protection. They practice distancing as much as possible, and can don additional PPE as needed.”
The Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority Board, which helps oversee operations, canceled its Aug. 18 meeting due to a lack of quorum. The next regular board meeting is at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 15 and is scheduled via Zoom due to COVID-19.
The board includes three members of the Kent City Council, three Fire District 37 commissioners and one non-voting advisory member each from the city of SeaTac, the city of Covington and King County Fire District 43.