The number of vacancies in the Spokane Fire Department due to Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccine mandate continues to dwindle.
The city and Spokane Firefighters Union have reached an agreement that will bring three unvaccinated employees back to dispatch and one to the Fire Prevention Bureau.
A fire mechanic will also be allowed to return to work thanks to updated guidance from the Department of Health, according to city spokesman Brian Coddington.
The unvaccinated employees “will have to follow the current indoor masking requirements and not work in a health care capacity,” Coddington said. They will also be subject to regular COVID-19 testing, according to Randy Marler, president of Spokane Firefighters Union Local 29.
“We’re happy that the city’s working with us to try to find spots. We didn’t think the governor’s mandate applied to positions in the department that aren’t providing emergency medical care,” Marler said.
Another employee who had been on leave has chosen to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
In a department of 331 positions, that leaves just six employees who retired or resigned and 10 who chose one of the several leave options offered by the city ahead of Inslee’s October vaccination deadline for health care workers.
The employees on leave remain in good standing with the city and are eligible to return to work if they get vaccinated.
Negotiations between the city and firefighters union continued even after Inslee’s Oct. 18 deadline.
The new accommodations bring the department’s compliance with the mandate to about 95%.
The city granted 52 exemptions to firefighters for religious or medical reasons, but refused to make accommodations to the vast majority of them. Its firm stance stood in contrast to departments like Spokane Valley, which opted to group its unvaccinated firefighters together in two stations and force them to undergo routine COVID-19 tests.
Several unvaccinated firefighters asked a federal court to issue a temporary order to block the city’s implementation of the mandate, but a judge denied the request last month.
“The public interest the city has put forth to prevent death certainly outweighs the public interest in what is alleged to be civil rights violations,” U.S. District Court Judge Thomas O. Rice said.
The majority of firefighters who were granted an exemption have since withdrawn them.