Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement for state employees — you know, the one that cannot stop spread or transmission of the virus among coworkers — could drastically reduce the number of volunteer firefighters available to help fight large fires, according to a story in The Wenatchee World.
The heads of two fire districts in Chelan County say vaccine requirements may lead to two-thirds fewer firefighters available for mobilization. Their worry is in part based on a survey of fire departments in the Mid-Columbia Mobilization Region.
The two chiefs asked the region’s fire departments to poll their volunteers’ vaccination status, The Wenatchee World reports. About 20 of the 66 departments responded with answers, and, “Of the 562 volunteer firefighters who responded to the survey, 248 were vaccinated — about 44%. But only 77 were willing to submit their vaccination card to the state patrol,” the paper wrote. “That’s about one-third of the eligible pool and about 14% of all the firefighters who took the survey.”
A spokesperson for the state Fire Marshal’s Office and State Patrol confirmed that the governor’s order “applies to volunteer firefighters who become ‘casual hires’ during emergency mobilization ….”
The story also highlights the lack of wisdom in the state’s inconsistent vaccination standards, which will allow some workers on incident sites to be unvaccinated but not others, given their contractor vs. employee status.
The two fire chiefs, Phil Mosher and Kelly O’Brien, say they’ve attempted to make their concerns known in Olympia to no avail.
Fire season alone should motivate Inslee to end his vaccine mandate. Then again, knowing more about the virus, who becomes severely ill, and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of available COVID-19 vaccines has not motivated reconsideration of the mandate on state workers.
Instead, Inslee has doubled and tripled down. He recently made the vaccine mandate permanent for some state employees and will require boosters to be added to the requirement. This could eventually result in more firings, fewer employees and more harm to state services that taxpayers pay for and expect. Directive 22-13 outlines the requirement.
Vaccines are proving useful at fighting COVID-19 hospitalization and death. Vaccine mandates are not. They are creating division and suspicion, ruining careers and hurting workforces with no demonstrable health benefit.
The mandate and enhanced mandate appear to be unjust discrimination against people who aren't doing what the governor wants them to do. He should be making compelling arguments for vaccination and continuing to encourage safe practices, instead of crafting mandates and directives.
Note: Public comment is being accepted on the booster-inclusive vaccine mandate during its rulemaking phase. If interested, submit written comments to Brandy Chinn at the Office of Financial Management, P.O. Box 47500, Olympia, Wash., 98501 or firstname.lastname@example.org by midnight August 3. Proposed rulemaking information is here: https://ofm.wa.gov/sites/default/files/public/rulemaking/rules_dev/WSR_22-14-104_CR102.pdf.
Elizabeth Hovde is a policy analyst and the director of the Centers for Health Care and Worker Rights at the Washington Policy Center.