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Pierce County fire chiefs warn of staff shortages over COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Fire chiefs in Pierce County say Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate could cause firefighters to walk off the job.

TACOMA, Wash. — Fire chiefs in Pierce County are pushing back against Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

Fire chiefs say Inslee’s mandate requiring fighters to be vaccinated against the coronavirus may cause departments to let go of people who don’t want to get the vaccine.

In a letter to the governor, Central Pierce Fire & Rescue Chief Daniel Olson said up to 70 people in his station aren’t vaccinated.

Olson’s letter to the governor also questions the new requirements fire crews would have to follow, such as wearing face masks, social distancing, wearing full personal protective gear and weekly COVID-19 testing.

He claims the current system is already working, and is asking Inslee to reconsider these new mandates.

Tacoma Fire Chief Tory Green said he’s heard 30 to 50 firefighters would be willing to walk off the job instead of getting the vaccine.

Losing that many people would be devastating to his department.

“We have a minimum staff of 79 people on shift, every day, and we have four shifts. So a loss of fifty people would be the majority of one of those shifts,” Green explained.

Green said he thinks the requirement to be vaccinated is the heart of the issue.

“It’s one thing to be mandated to wear a mask. Because a mask is something you can put on and take off,” Green said. “But receiving an injection is something that’s very significant for individuals in the department.”

But fire departments hope they can move forward with the people they have.

“Although I respect the rights and desires of people, and the reasoning for their various reasons for not wanting to get vaccinated, we are a public service, and people have an expectation related to that,” said Green. “Regardless of the situation, and the governor’s mandate, we will do the best we can to provide the services that the citizens need.”

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