SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. — Some of Spokane's local fire departments are expecting to lose dozens of firefighters due to the state's vaccination mandate. But the Spokane Valley Fire department is not losing a single firefighter.
The department has 176 uniformed personnel who fall under the state's mandate. According to Fire Chief Bryan Collins, 88% are fully vaccinated and the remaining 12%, or 22 people, are approved for exemption.
"Our end goal from day one was fully comply with the mandate, which is in essence a law for us," Chief Collins said. "And secondly, not lose any more employees and we succeeded in both of those."
While Chief Bryan Collins is grateful the department will remain intact, he admits not all employees are pleased with the mandate.
"They also understand the public health risk," Collins said. "They understand our business and how we interact with a vulnerable population, and they love working for the valley fire department. Ultimately, I think those factors were the ones that led them to go ahead and get vaccinated, even though it's a little distasteful for some of them."
While other Spokane fire agencies are still sorting out accommodations for exempt employees, the Spokane Valley Fire Department already has a plan in place.
Groups of exempt firefighters will be reassigned to specific stations within the department, which is something they already do regularly. Those locations will manage daily COVID-19 testing for exempt personnel and they must always wear an N95 mask while on duty.
Chief Collins said these accommodations came about through an interactive process and thorough discussions with each employee and labor groups.
"I think it's really just a testament of the employees, what a great place it is to work, and everybody wanted to remain in their job and understood the challenges that we all had getting this thing implemented," Chief Collins said.