Judge rejects firefighter unions’ push for vaccine mandate exemption

Providence

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — A judge on Tuesday rejected an attempt by a group of unions asking for firefighters to be exempt from Rhode Island’s vaccine mandate for health care workers.

The group argued that it’s unconstitutional when it comes to medical and religious exemptions.

According to the unions’ complaint, health care services make up about 70% of a firefighter’s duties.

R.I. State Association of Fire Fighters President Joseph Andriole said currently, about 93% of his members are vaccinated.

Andriole said firefighters who refuse to comply with the mandate could potentially lose their jobs since many union contracts require them to have an EMT certification.

If the roughly 7% of unvaccinated firefighters are ousted, Andriole said it would have a significant impact on the departments that are already stretched thin when it comes to staffing.

“If you just click the calendar on October 2 and remove hundreds of firefighters from the rosters, that in itself puts Rhode islanders in danger to a host of things, not only COVID, but fires, car accidents, hazardous material incidents,” Andriole explained.

The R.I. Department of Health said it doesn’t plan to immediately suspend or revoke licenses, and that the state plans to deal with unvaccinated licensees on a case-by-case basis.

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