JASON RANTZ

Rantz: Seattle Fire understaffed 69% of time, County Jail cuts bookings as COVID mandates ravage departments

Jul 11, 2022, 6:24 PM | Updated: Jul 12, 2022, 8:44 am

The City of Seattle and King County continue to feel the public safety threats thanks to the failed COVID vaccine mandates.

According to internal documents obtained by the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH, the Seattle Fire Department (SFD) was understaffed 69% of the time in 2022. It spent over $11 million to fund overtime to cover the vacancies.

Staffing at the King County Jail is so bad that it was again forced to stop all bookings on the evening of Sunday, July 10 into early Monday morning. Both staffs were decimated by the COVID vaccine mandate, which pushed out dozens of unvaccinated workers — or those unwilling to turn over their private medical paperwork.

Under then-Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine, city and county workers were forced into COVID vaccines. Mayor Bruce Harrell continued the policy. Despite universal understanding that none of the vaccines stop the spread of COVID, neither Harrell nor Constantine have relented on the mandates. Consequently, the staffing crises hitting the city and county on several fronts continue to wreak havoc.

Rantz: Seattle Fire turns units offline, spends hundreds of thousands in overtime

Seattle Fire staffing is dangerously understaffed

SFD Chief Harold Scoggins explained to staff in June that through the first half of the year, the department had only been fully staffed a quarter of the time. It is a dramatic change from 2021.

According to internal documents, Scoggins reported 2021 staffing as 50.41% (184) days fully staffed and 49.59% (181) days not fully staffed.

In 2022, that number jumped dramatically.

Through June, the SFD was fully staffed only 31% (50) of the time, and not fully staffed 69% of the time (108 days). This disparity between 69% and the slide is that stat was through June 11, and the new stat accounts for all of June.

This equates to 486 total units browned out this year, compared to 176 total units offline last year at this time.

When the SFD is not fully staffed, units are “browned out” — meaning it takes units offline from service. Consequently, the SFD has fewer medical, aid, and fire units to serve the city.

January (130 units offline), April (122), and May (90) saw the most brownouts of the year so far. February (69) and March (65) saw the fewest unstaffed units. Though the slide says otherwise, the SFD confirmed the month saw 94 browned out units.

Rather than address the crisis, firefighters have complained Scoggins is focused on the wrong issues. They have complained to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH of a recent memo banning the use of the term “brown out” under the claim that it’s racist and caused community outcry. But there was only one contrived complaint by a member of the community.

King County Jail closes bookings — again

At 9:02 p.m. Sunday night, law enforcement agencies were told they could not book suspects in the King County Jail (KCJ).

“KCJ booking will be closed from 2130-0630 completely due to staffing,” the bulletin to officers explained.

Four minutes later, there was a second bulletin informing officers that South Correctional Entity (SCORE), a regionally owned jail in Des Moines, “will not be taking KCJ bookings” either.

This staffing crisis impacts law enforcement agencies in different ways.

King County Sheriff’s deputies were unable to book certain suspects. However, a spokesperson says they have been able to make special considerations with KNJ staff in cases of violent felony suspects. If the suspect is not eligible to be booked at SCORE, he or she would be released. The spokesperson did not offer the number of arrests impacted during the closure but said it was “misdemeanors and warrants that were likely declined.”

For the Seattle Police Department, it was more of a hassle, but one they planned for. The SPD developed contingency plans since they anticipated staffing issues at KCJ. The department uses a prisoner van to transport arrestees to the Snohomish County jail in Everett. In the morning, they pick the suspects up and transport them back to King County for booking.

It wasn’t an issue for the Bellevue Police Department, as they had no bookings during the nine hours the KCJ wasn’t accepting bookings. But they, too, have a contingency plan. They would book at the Kent Regional Justice Center.

Harrell and Constantine won’t change COVID vaccine mandate

Neither Harrel nor Constantine plans to change their COVID vaccine mandates, despite knowing it does nothing to stop the spread of COVID.

While data indicates vaccinated individuals are less likely to experience serious complications when infected, nearly half of the state’s COVID cases come from vaccinated individuals. Still, a spokesperson for Constantine says it’s worth keeping in place.

“Hi Jason – As you know, the best tools to fight both infection and severe symptoms of COVID are the vaccines. The latest data from Public Health shows that being vaccinated does indeed reduce risk of infection and importantly reduces the risk of hospitalization and death by around 10x. Being vaccinated means our workforce is better protected against the virus, and protected against being sidelined with severe illness,” spokesperson Chase Gallagher tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

While King County Corrections Guild president Dennis Folk says nearly 35 corrections officers were separated, Gallagher says “only 15 were separated.”

“It would be irresponsible to characterize staffing issues (which certainly have impacted organizations of many sizes, both public and private) as solely attributed to that policy,” Gallagher said.

Both Harrell and Constantine have recently stated their commitment to the right to choose medical decisions involving one’s own body. But that commitment only extends to abortion services for women, not vaccination decisions.

Harrell’s office did not respond to a request for comment, a common practice from his spokesperson Jamie Housen.

The Seattle Fire spent $11 million in overtime

It’s certainly true that the COVID vaccine mandate isn’t the sole reason for the crisis, but the COVID firings clearly took a toll on SFD and corrections officers.

SFD officially separated from 22 firefighters, but there is a large number of sidelined, unvaccinated firefighters who have not been officially terminated yet. Others took retirement early. It’s why the department has roughly 110 openings for uniformed staff.

The International Association of Firefighters Local 27 believes that, under the current recruitment trajectory, the crisis will not end for another 12-18 months. And the staffing shortage is costing the city.

The department confirms to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH that firefighters have worked 151,250 overtime hours through June 7, equating to an astonishing $11,001,747 in overtime costs.

“The department acknowledges the current number of firefighter vacancies is higher than we would normally carry this time of year and not ideal,” a spokesperson for SFD explained to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “We have been taking steps to hire larger recruit classes to help reduce the vacancy count. We want to thank our firefighters who are working additional shifts to ensure each station remains staffed.”

Sounding the alarms at King County Jail

At the King County Jail, Folk has been sounding the alarms over the staffing crisis even before the terminations. He says the department losing nearly 35 corrections officers came as the staffing situation was already at crisis levels. He says there are over 100 corrections officers at the retirement age.

“I’ve never seen the jail totally closed down its booking operations,” Folk told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “I’ve been a county employee for close to 25 years now. They just closed the RJC booking area about two months ago. And that was only open during the day. Monday through Friday, and reassigned those staff members in that booking area to the courts to help with the trial court load. But we kept the Seattle jail booking area open 24 hours. But I’ve never seen or heard of any other jail do this.”

Folk warns that the jail is at “critical levels right now” and that they “can’t continue to operate the way that we are.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3–6 pm on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz  on  Twitter,  Instagram, and Facebook. Check back frequently for more news and analysis.

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Rantz: Seattle Fire understaffed 69% of time, County Jail cuts bookings as COVID mandates ravage departments