Dori: Eastside Fire still refuses to rehire first responders released over COVID mandates
While fire departments throughout the Puget Sound region are gradually re-hiring first responders who were let go from their jobs over religious or medical objections to the state’s COVID vaccination requirements, Eastside Fire and Rescue is refusing to budge.
For veteran – and now former – firefighters like Frank Dahlquist, the impasse makes no sense.
“A bunch of departments have decided they are rehiring the guys that were fired,” Dahlquist confirmed to The Dori Monson Show. “They saw the mandate coming to an end and there was no point in further discriminating against these members and they’re welcoming these members back with open arms at a time when every agency is hiring.”
Dahlquist, who would like to get his job back, said Eastside Fire and Rescue has 28 openings “yet they won’t allow us to come back.”
As many as 200 firefighters across the region were released by various departments when they refused to get the state mandated COVID vaccine. Some departments released first responders because they could not give them accommodations to stay on the job.
With current staffing stretched thin, asked Dori, what is that costing Eastside Fire and Rescue taxpayers?
“Overtime budgets are running near $300,000 a month,” according to Dahlquist,
“It’s unsustainable,” he told Dori. Taxpayers in “Issaquah, Sammamish, North Bend, Carnation, the two fire districts 10 and 38 – they’re footing the bill for this.” The district also includes Preston and Woodinville – 15 fire stations total.
With emergency response staffing working so much overtime, Dahlquist added, “morale is at an all-time low – 3 out of 10 in our agency.”
But when other departments are re-hiring, Dori probed, why not Eastside Fire and Rescue?
These decisions are made department by department, and chief by chief, Dahlquist said. Some of Dori’s sources have indicated that the holdout is coming from King County Executive Dow Constantine’s office.
“We’ve heard the same thing,” Dahlquist said, adding that there are public records requests in the works that link leaders at the fire agencies to Constantine and to the governor’s office.
“It’s so destructive,” Dahlquist said. “We look at this as not just a job, but a calling. At any given moment, we would risk our lives for someone else’s. It chokes me up just thinking about the 191 years of experience that were lost at Eastside when we were purged.”
The discharged firefighters are seeking support from the public and plan to attend an Oct. 13 fire district board meeting to rally for their former jobs. Dahlquist says the discharged firefighters refuse to give up.
“These are people who just want to come back to work.”
- Tune in to KIRO Newsradio weekdays at 12 noon for The Dori Monson Show.