Kent-based Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority plans to move 18 firefighters, emergency medical technicians and nurses who requested and received a medical or religious exemption to getting the COVID-19 vaccine from field operations to non-operation roles.
“As of Oct. 18, all employees will be either vaccinated or working in non-operation roles under a legal exemption and subsequent accommodation,” according to a Puget Sound Fire statement released in an Oct. 8 email to the Kent Reporter.
In August, Gov. Jay Inslee mandated all health care providers, including firefighters, be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18, or they could face job termination. For a firefighter to be considered fully vaccinated by the October date, the deadline to receive a Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccine or the second dose of either Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, was Oct. 4.
“Additionally, we anticipate two retirements and two leaves of absence as a direct result of the vaccination mandate,” according to the statement. “Six non-operational employees requested and received a medical or religious exemption. The organization provided accommodations to them in their current role.”
Puget Sound Fire has over 340 employees (uniformed and civilian), with about 260 (in operations) subject to the vaccine mandate. The agency covers the cities of Kent, Covington, SeaTac and Maple Valley. A board that includes three Kent City Council members and three Fire District 37 commissioners helps oversee the regional fire authority.
Operations will be down 13 positions (2-3 per day) as a result of accommodated employees leaving operations and day-shift employees returning, according to the statement. Puget Sound Fire said it has contingency plans to handle this type of variance in its staffing.
Firefighters with exemptions will move to day-shift jobs, such as fire prevention inspectors, training officers, business/Information Technology and planning.
A Puget Sound Fire assistant chief said in August the agency would enforce the mandate but planned to retain all of its employees.
With the changes, Puget Sound Fire is looking to hire firefighters for next year to help fill the gaps as well to backfill planned retirements in 2022.
The agency has nine people in the recruit academy now who will graduate at the end of January after starting training in August, according to Capt. Joe Root.
“We will seek to fill 24 seats in the next recruit academy class scheduled to start in January,” Root said in an email.