The union representing the Valley Regional Fire Authority (VRFA) firefighters came out against the COVID-19 vaccine mandate that was issued by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Inslee issued the proclamation on Aug. 9. The mandate carries the full weight of the law and prohibits healthcare workers from working if they have not been vaccinated by Oct. 18.
The International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1352 union represents firefighters in Auburn, Pacific and Algona. On Aug. 21, Local 1352 issued a press release denouncing the mandates despite being in support of vaccinations.
“The Executive Board of IAFF Local 1352 unanimously denounces the vaccine mandate that was announced for Washington State healthcare workers on Aug. 9,” the release said.
The statement acknowledged the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines and encouraged unvaccinated members to get vaccinated. The release also said that a majority of the union’s members have already been vaccinated.
The Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines had at least 85% efficacy of preventing severe COVID-19 cases, according to the Washington Department of Health.
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that unvaccinated people are 29 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 compared to people who are fully vaccinated.
Despite the fact that over 70% of King County residents are vaccinated against COVID-19, positive cases have surged 782% from July 2 to Aug. 20. As of Aug. 24, 287 people in King County have been hospitalized with COVID-19 in the previous 14 days.
The union is opposed to the mandate because firefighters risk termination if they are not vaccinated by Oct. 18.
“We firmly oppose mandating a medical procedure without consent,” the release said.
In a Facebook post on Aug. 19, the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters said they are not taking a specific stance on the issue of the vaccine mandate, but are opposed to Inslee’s deadline of Oct. 18.
The president of the Washington State Labor Council and Auburn City Councilmember Larry Brown recently wrote an op-ed about his experience getting COVID-19 despite being vaccinated. Brown urged union workers across the state to get vaccinated if they are not already. IAFF Local 1352 is an affiliated union with the Washington State Labor Council.
“I am absolutely convinced that my being vaccinated was what kept me from being hospitalized, or worse,” Brown wrote. “Again, the reason I am opening up about my personal COVID experience is to strongly urge you to consider your safety and that of your loved ones and community by getting the vaccination.”
The mandate clearly applies to firefighters who are also EMTs, so the Valley Regional Fire Authority will follow the mandate and is currently in the process of collecting proof of vaccination for all of its EMTs, said VRFA Chief Brad Thompson.
The VRFA is taking extra steps to ensure the safety of their firefighters despite the union’s opposition to the mandate, Thompson said.
“We are currently in the process of collecting proof of vaccination records for all EMTs in accordance with the proclamation and are continuing to follow guidance from the CDC, King County and the DOH regarding requirements,” Thompson said. “The VRFA recently implemented masking requirements for all staff regardless of vaccination status.”
The VRFA doesn’t want to fire its EMTs, but after Oct. 18, EMTs who are not vaccinated and have not been approved for an accommodation will no longer meet the qualifications to continue working as an EMT firefighter, Thompson said.
Unlike firefighters, police officers in Washington are not required to get the COVID-19 vaccine under the current mandate.
The Auburn Police Department does not currently track the vaccination rates of its officers, so there is no data on the number of Auburn police officers who are vaccinated, public information officer Kolby Crossley said. If a vaccine requirement for police officers is mandated, Auburn Police Department will follow it, Crossley said.