South King Fire and Rescue has reduced daily staffing and lost four firefighters due to the October COVID-19 vaccine mandate, according to the department.
In total, 149 South King firefighters fell under the mandate. When the mandate went into effect on Oct. 18, the department was 91% vaccinated, or about 136 vaccinated firefighters vaccinated.
Overall, 13 firefighters of the department have been impacted by the mandate, according to department officials.
The department and Local 2024 — the union represent South King firefighters — developed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in response to the board of fire commissioners’ policy prohibiting unvaccinated firefighters from working with the public and Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate for first responders.
Of the 13 firefighters impacted, one firefighter opted to retire, while three firefighters accepted accommodations in support staff administration positions where they will not be providing patient care, said Assistant Chief Gordon Goodsell.
The accommodation positions are limited to six months, then the firefighters must receive their COVID-19 vaccination.
Four additional members chose to separate from the department entirely.
“We are saddened by the loss of their service,” Goodsell said. “Should they choose to get vaccinated and wish to return, we will welcome them back. “
All four of the separated firefighters opted to utilize a 24-month resignation/reinstatement option, Goodsell said.
In addition, Goodsell said, there are five firefighters on L&I time loss from injury or sick leave who are unvaccinated. When those firefighters recover, they are required to be vaccinated to return to full duty, he said.
To make up for the staffing loss, SKFR has two recruits in the fire academy who are set to be on the streets in January next year. The department is hiring eight more recruits expected to be on the streets by late summer 2022.
The fire department is reducing daily staffing by two firefighters, taking Aid Car 364 out of service.
To accommodate upcoming construction, Station 65’s crews will move to Station 64 (3700 S. 320th Street in Federal Way). Engine 365 began operating from Station 64 on Monday, Nov. 1.
South King Fire’s Station 65, located at 4966 S. 298th Street in Auburn, is the remaining bond project on the department’s list.
Fire officials say the move of 65’s crew to another station allows for the temporary reduction.
“This staffing reduction limits the operational and budgetary impacts while new firefighters are hired and trained,” Goodsell said.
The station’s remodel was delayed due to the pandemic, and the board of fire commissioners recently accepted a $1.19 million bid from BFC Construction for the station’s infrastructure and seismic upgrades.
Construction is slated to begin Dec. 1 and should last for about seven to 10 months, Goodsell said.
“The District has worked to examine all scenarios to minimize impacts to the residents of SKFR,” Goodsell said. “We want the communities we serve and protect to rest assured that we will continue to arrive and provide the professional emergency services that they have come to know and expect from South King Fire and Rescue.”