Local firefighter unions push back against Inslee’s ‘vaccination or termination’ mandate

Sources in fire departments across King County told KIRO 7 a solid 30% of on-duty firefighters, paramedics and EMTs are not vaccinated for COVID-19 now. And in some fire stations, they told us that number is close to 40%.

Some firefighters told their unions they won’t get vaccinated to abide by Gov. Jay Inslee’s Oct. 18 mandate, which means they could lose their jobs. Those alarming numbers are the same in Pierce County too.

“Most of us in Pierce County — we’re looking at 30% of our labor force, which is a huge number,” said Tacoma firefighter and IAFF Local 31 Union President Allyson Hinzman. “Especially at a time like this when we’re dealing with fires and increased call volumes.”

Hinzman signed an open letter along with 10 fellow union leaders from across Pierce County to Inslee. “We agree that vaccination plays a crucial role in stopping the spread of COVID-19,” the letter reads. “However, we oppose the vaccine mandate due to the variety of impacts it carries, and we fully support the rights of our members.”

“We’re just asking for options and alternatives,” Hinzman said. “Something to give our members other than make this decision or lose your job. There has to be some leeway in that to work with our members.”

The Washington State Council of Firefighters Union cautioned Inslee about not having enough firefighters, paramedics and EMTs on Oct. 19 if the vaccine mandate stays the way it is. Its letter to the governor reads: “Though a majority of our statewide first responders are vaccinated, the numbers are not where we had hoped. We now have serious concerns related to our ability to maintain a response-ready work force, if in fact mandatory vaccination is our only option.”

Hinzman said she chose to receive the vaccine, but she added for the first responders she represents, there are 18 months of lessons regarding how protective equipment — including masks, gowns, face shields and, in some cases, breathing apparatus —protects them without the vaccine.

Some unions have proposed regular testing instead of forcing first responders to face a “vaccination or termination” choice.

When asked why some firefighters are challenging the mandate, Hinzman said there are various issues regarding that. “Some are personal beliefs, medical issues. Some of them are issues they’ve seen firsthand with the vaccine and, honestly, for some of them, it has nothing to do with the vaccine at all. It’s a matter of ‘I want to be able to hold my rights to make the best decision for me rather than this having to be mandated,’” she said.