A firefighter in Washington, DC recently contacted me about the city’s plans to require all firefighters to be vaccinated against Covid or fired. “That was my line in the sand,” he wrote. “I’ve been quiet throughout this whole COVID-19 nonsense but now I’m speaking out.”
Washington firefighters are also emergency medical technicians or paramedics, so a city order requiring health-care workers to receive at least one vaccine dose by September 30 covers them.
The deadline is four weeks from today. Hundreds of firefighters are trying to decide what to do.
The anti-mandate firefighters estimate that about 40 percent of the department has not been vaccinated. Without them, the department will barely be able to function and will likely have to go to what firefighters call a three- or two-platoon system.
Normally, the department works on a four-platoon system, meaning firefighters work one 24-hour shift and then have three days off. In a three-platoon system, they have two days off, and in a two-platoon, they have only one day to recover after each 24-hour shift.
“It’s pretty much insanity to try to do that long-term, it’s reserved for emergencies,” the firefighter wrote. But because the process of hiring and training new firefighters takes so long, the department would have little choice.
So why are these firefighters – who as EMTs treated many people with Covid firsthand – so opposed to being required to take the vaccine?
I sent along questions, which three firefighters answered – a relatively junior paramedic, an EMT with about a decade of experience, and a long-serving captain. Here are their answers. I have cut for space but otherwise left them unchanged.
1) What are the main reasons that people are hesitant to get the vaccine?
Captain: Many of us have had Covid and according to the latest science, are anywhere from 6.5 to 13 times less likely to contract the Delta variant than a solely vaccinated person. At this rate, the more major threat would then be from the rare side effects of a new and still very early vaccine.
Others also have a religious objection. All of the current vaccines were developed utilizing tissue from aborted fetal tissue. A lot of firefighters are religious people and feel very strongly about this aspect…
There is also the general mistrust of an obviously rushed process from a government that is not always honest (to say the least) and has a history of exploiting certain groups of people in medical experimentation… Many also worry about what happens next if this is allowed, what will our employers force on us next as a condition of being able to provide for our families?
2) Healthcare workers and first responders appear to be refusing the vaccine at higher rates than the general public. What should the rest of us make of that hesitancy?
Paramedic: We are not afraid. We put our lives at risk every day. We’ve worked through the pandemic when most others were staying home. We see first-hand that very few healthy, active individuals are getting severely ill with Covid-19.
Like many other health emergencies we respond to, weight and other comorbidities play a huge role in your risk of getting severely ill or dying from Covid-19. Due to the demands of our job, most of us are active healthy individuals. We should be allowed to determine if not being vaccinated is a risk that we are comfortable taking.
3) The media generally portrays Covid vaccine refusal as a political issue. Do you think that’s true? Are you all or mostly conservatives/Republicans?
EMT: While we have no idea of the political leaning all of those who aren’t vaccinated, we can say that among those of us organizing the opposition, there are those who hold polar opposite political beliefs and ordinarily would have little in common.
Captain: We represent a diverse population and a good reflection of the city’s demographics. I know of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alike in our group and everything in between. Gay, straight, Black, white, Hispanic, and Asian. I’d say this has been a very unifying event and shows the true brotherhood/sisterhood that the fire department culture encompasses.
4) Do you know people who have become very ill or died from COVID?
Captain: Yes, I know a couple. I also know perfectly healthy people that were hospitalized and one that may soon die from the vaccine alone. This is why it should be a personal choice. I am not anti-vaccine. I, like most here, are anti-mandate.
5) Do you know people who have become very ill or died after receiving the vaccine?
Captain: I do, see previous answer. My mother is one, she has had persistent pain throughout her body ever since her 2nd shot. She is older and of the high risk group. I supported her decision to get the vaccine and still do. I believe her biggest risk is from covid.
6) What do you think will happen if the city does not back down on the mandate?
Paramedic: If we stick together, we don’t think that the city can fire hundreds of us. If they are able to scare the numbers down to less than 100, they will probably fire us. We are already short-staffed and having to work mandatory overtime. Firing dozens of firefighters would make the department shift to a two- or three-platoon system where people would have to work significantly more than we already are.
Captain: Going to the reduced manpower model the fire chief states would exponentially diminish service after a few weeks at most. The remaining firefighters and medics will be crushed under the workload, disruptions in their lives (finding daycare more often, kids in school, etc.) and either leave or suffer mentally to the point they are no longer mission effective. How would this serve the citizens better? It wouldn’t and once it happens, undoing it will take a long time. Recruiting and training takes a very long time and is very expensive, especially when you have a very unattractive work schedule and leadership. This doesn’t even address the loss of experience and leadership that cannot be substituted overnight.
Ask yourself this. If you or a loved one suffer a medical emergency, severe car accident, fire or a terrorist event, who would you rather have; a firefighter and or medic with years of experience and possibly not vaccinated or a brand new or very new responder that is definitely vaccinated?
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I am hoping this is an honest mistake and have contacted Substack to ask what is going on.