Unvaccinated and unemployed

In unprecedented act of defiance, first responders lose their jobs over vaccine mandate

Carlos Snellenberg-Fraser, Staff Writer

The City of Seattle Police Department precinct building at 810 Verona Street where many police officer have been dismissed from their jobs for not getting vaccinated against COVID. (Devin Murray)

As the pandemic continued to sweep across communities in Washington State, Governor Jay Inslee announced a statewide vaccine requirement for most state employees on Aug.18, resulting in some first responders to risk their employment instead of being vaccinated.

In a statement made by Gov. Inslee, he issued the mandate to apply to state workers regardless of their teleworking status.

“It is the mission of public servants and those providing health care to serve our fellow Washingtonians. These workers live in every community in our state, working together and with the public every day to deliver services,” Inslee said. “We have a duty to protect them from the virus, they have the right to be protected, and the communities they serve and live in deserve protection as well.”

Since then, numerous individuals and legal groups have attempted to block this order from taking place. On Oct. 25, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rice declined to stop Gov. Inslee’s mandate in court.

“The Supreme Court has long endorsed state and local government authority to impose compulsory vaccines… Federal courts have routinely analyzed such cases using rational basis and regularly reject cases similar to this one that challenge vaccine mandates based on free exercise of religion,” said Rice in his ruling.

Rice explained that the reason for not blocking Gov. Inslee’s mandate was that it was “well-supported by extensive medical evidence, recommendations by professional organizations, and aligns with other measures already in place in other governmental settings.”

Now, more than 170 Seattle Police and Seattle Fire first responders have been placed on leave as they await exemptions. The Seattle Police Department announced that 103 officers are currently awaiting exemption after six had their employment terminated.

Kristin Tinsley, the Seattle Fire Department’s public information officer, announced in a statement that as of Oct. 29, 94% of the city’s 1,086 employees are vaccinated.

“Fifty-five employees have submitted exemptions (48 religious, 7 medical) and are involved in the City’s exemption and accommodation process. Seven employees did not submit either a vaccine verification form or exemption form. Of the seven, three have been separated, three are in the separation process, and one is retiring,” said Tinsley.

Faced with concerns about issues responding to calls in a timely manner as a result of the mandate, Tinsley said, “at this time, we are not experiencing significant response delays.”

The Seattle Fire Department has prepared a contingency plan that includes cancelling all non-essential training, community events and limiting annual building inspection focus to schools.

The department also plans to prioritize which units could be placed out-of-service through an analysis of response routes to ensure city coverage by Seattle Fire Department remains in effect.

The Washington State Patrol announced on October 19 that 127 individuals at the department had separated from employment as a result of the mandate. This consists of 53 civil servants and 74 commissioned officers (67 troopers, 6 sergeants, and 1 captain).

Washington State Patrol Chief John R. Batiste said in a statement that he and the other workers in the Washington State Patrol department would miss everyone who has chosen to separate from the department.

“I extend a hearty thanks to those who are leaving the agency. I truly wish that you were staying with us. You have my utmost appreciation for the hard and successful work that you have provided during your valued WSP careers. You will forever have our respect for your courage and your commitment in all you have done on behalf of the agency,” said Batiste.