SPOKANE, Wash. —
Thursday's announcement from Governor Jay Inslee on the rollback of the last of his emergency COVID-19 orders already has Spokane leaders and organizations talking.
Soon, vaccinations won’t be required for healthcare workers, educators and first responders unless an employer requires it.
Former Spokane firefighters credit the state vaccine mandate as being the sole reason they had to leave the job they loved.
Now, some are saying there’s potential they could go back after Governor Inslee’s emergency orders and state of emergency expire in October.
Some city leaders said it’s about time for a decision long overdue.
Former firefighter Tim Archer said it wasn’t an easy decision, but when city leaders wouldn’t approve some vaccine exemptions and accommodations, he had no choice.
“I felt betrayed by the mayor, who initially said she wanted to work with us," Archer explained. "The mayor has said she was against mandates, but mandate is her middle name. It was her mandate that fired us because the Governor gave her the authority to retain us.”
At the time, Mayor Nadine Woodward said in a statement that the city acted in accordance with the state mandate and the public and department employees' was the principle factor considered.
Now, with the removal of Governor Inslee’s final emergency COVID-19 orders, some firefighters are considering a possible return to work
“I would love to go back to it," Archer said. "I planned to work another seven and a half years.”
Councilmember Michael Cathcart said this potential return to work is needed for the city.
“To have so many of our firefighters lost as a result of this mandate I think harmed the city both financially and in our service," councilmember Cathcart said. "And it's really unfortunate that it has taken this long to finally get past this mandate.”
Cathcart said the decision is up to the administration, but if he had his way, firefighters would be welcomed back.
“With the vaccine mandate being lifted, the state of emergency being lifted, let’s bring them back," Cathcart said. "Let’s do it right now.”
According to the city, Spokane has lost over two dozen firefighters to resignation, retirement and being laid off.
To accommodate less firefighters, current firefighters had to step up their hours, resulting in an estimated over $7 million worth of overtime pay.
"We’ve already identified a funding source for a portion of that, but there’s still $3.4 million that needs to be paid off," Cathcart said.
City Spokesperson Brian Coddington stated, "We'll evaluate today's announcement to be sure there's a clear understanding about potential impacts to city operations."
And some Spokane organizations are saying, right now, there aren’t any foreseeable changes.
Providence Health shared a statement that said quote in part, “No changes to our current policy or vaccination requirements are planned at this time, and we encourage all eligible people to get vaccinated and boosted in order to protect themselves from the worst effects of COVID-19."
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