The chief of the Aurora Fire District says he would sooner be fired than enforce the new statewide mandate requiring health care workers — including firefighters who also serve as front-line EMTs — to get vaccinated for Covid-19 by Oct. 18.
Chief Joshua Williams, who moved to the Aurora Fire District in May 2018 after a 12-year career in Depoe Bay, made his position clear in a two-page letter posted to the Aurora Fire District’s social media Friday.
“This mandate is un-American, as our state government has been weaponized to the point where people are afraid to take a stand,” Williams said. “I will no longer sit silently on the sideline and watch this happen. I love my job, I love the fire service, and more importantly, I love the people that I work with and serve.”
“I will not abide by the governor’s mandate. Additionally, I will not enforce this mandate on any member of this fire district. In the old America, we used to have choices. Frankly, I do not recognize the country that I live in right now.”
Williams said that at least a quarter of Aurora Fire’s staff and volunteers — including about half of the district’s career firefighters — will quit if forced to receive the vaccine, based on a recent survey he conducted.
“A decrease in membership to our already short-handed cadre of staff and volunteers will have devastating results and will negatively impact our ability to respond,” he wrote. “These staff and volunteer responders that will quit are the same ones that have been safely responding to emergencies throughout the duration of this pandemic.”
Williams pushed back against the notion that he is a “conspiracy theorist” or “anti-vaxxer,” saying he supports his vaccinated and unvaccinated personnel equally.
“The ‘vaccine’ is not the issue,” he said. “Please take out the word ‘vaccination’ and insert any other medical procedure or medication. These choices are better left between an individual and their physician.”
But Williams argued the vaccine mandate is not necessary to protect his firefighters or the community from the coronavirus.
“We have policies and procedures in place that have kept our members and our public safe from Covid for the past 18 months,” he said. “We have responded to many Covid patients and have never experienced an outbreak among our personnel. We have never had any of our personnel pass Covid throughout the District.
“We know how to keep ourselves and the public safe, we have been doing it for years. The governor’s new mandate will make our residents less safe. If she is so worried about the lack of responders now, I’ll stand by and see what happens with this ridiculous and intrusive requirement.”
Williams said he has asked the district’s board of directors to support his stance.
“I have asked the Aurora Fire District Board of Directors to stand up for medical freedom, and to stand up for America,” he said. “I have asked the Aurora Fire District Board of Directors to support me and my decision. I want to continue working for the Aurora Fire District, but I have had it with the shifting goalposts and government overreach.
“I will NEVER force a member of this fire district to inject themselves with anything that they do not want,” he wrote. “I will never quit advocating for my people and for what is right. What is happening is wrong, and I will not enforce it. Should the board of directors choose, they would need to terminate me from my employment as your fire chief before I would enforce this intrusive requirement.”
Individual health care workers who are not fully vaccinated by the Oct. 18 deadline face the prospect of termination — probably without the safety net of unemployment benefits while looking for a new position.
It’s not clear exactly what penalties might be in store for an employer that defies the mandate, but it could include hefty fines and other enforcement from the state.
Aurora Fire District provides fire and emergency medical services to approximately 6,000 residents in mostly rural Clackamas and Marion counties. Its 64-acre coverage area includes Aurora, Donald and a portion of Interstate 5.
It has a staff of eight full-time employees, including an administrative assistant. The majority of its services are provided by volunteers and resident students.
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