Monday, November 29, 2021

LAFD Union: Vaccination Can Be A Safety Risk

The Los Angeles Firefighters Union warned on Thursday of service delays if the city loses firefighters due to requirements that its employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Freddie Escobar, President of United Firefighters of Local 112 Los Angeles Branch, said the Los Angeles Fire Department could face a loss of resources and staff, similar to the budget cuts in the department during the 2008 economic downturn.

Escobar, speaking at a press conference in front of Westlake headquarters, predicted “devastating consequences for the public safety of the city of Los Angeles” if the city loses firefighters. Ambulances and trucks cannot operate without proper personnel, he said.

In August, Los Angeles passed an ordinance requiring city employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they have a medical or religious exemption. Last week, the council approved a plan to give unvaccinated employees more time to get vaccinated.

However, the city officials said there could be quicker consequences for workers who do not want to follow the plan. Workers who have not yet been vaccinated or are not applying for benefits are expected to sign notices promptly asking them to provide proof of vaccination by December 18th.

If they refuse to sign these notices, they will be suspended from service and their salaries will be suspended as they await notice of a “proposed dismissal,” according to a note sent to city departments last week by Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Escobar said the department was already facing a shortage of staff and called on city leaders to return to the negotiating table.

The firefighters union supports the proposal that its members either agree to be vaccinated or receive weekly testing, with the city paying for testing. A similar proposal was made earlier this year by a union representing police officers.

A spokesman for Garcetti said Thursday that the mayor’s stance on the vaccination mandate has not changed.

“As the mayor said, employees must be vaccinated and anyone who refuses to comply with this policy must be prepared to lose their job,” said spokesman Alex Komisar.

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The commissar said the city sent some employees on unpaid leave for refusing to sign notices. He could not name the exact number of employees on vacation.

Garcetti, who has been vaccinated against COVID-19, announced this week that he has tested positive for the disease. He self-isolates in a hotel room in Glasgow, Scotland, and tells staff that he has a fever and symptoms of a runny nose.

Escobar said on Tuesday that 76% of city firefighters have been vaccinated, leaving about 800 firefighters without a dose. “Every week we get more people vaccinated,” he said.

Health experts said COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and life-saving.

Vaccination demands for urban workers have sparked a lawsuit by a group of Police Department officials challenging the mandate. A group of firefighters are also suing the city.

Firefighter Jennifer Landis told reporters at an event on Thursday that she chose not to get vaccinated, calling it “a purely personal decision.” “No one should lose their job because of a vaccine prescription,” she said.

Another firefighter, Dreon Brown, said he contacted COVID-19 in June 2020. He spent nine days in the intensive care unit of the hospital and suffered from respiratory failure. He said he was later vaccinated.

Brown called on the city to compromise with the union. “I don’t want any firefighter to lose his job over a decision not to get vaccinated,” Brown said. “Our brothers and sisters dedicated their time and risked their lives to support the citizens of Los Angeles.”

Firefighters act as first responders, raising concerns that they might infect others or contract the virus. Escobar said firefighters use personal protective equipment when working with the public.

This year, a firefighter told The Times that he saw fire Department City Hall employees inconsistently using masks.

Times staff columnist Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.

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