EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As fire departments across the state worry about potential staffing shortages caused by Rhode Island’s vaccine mandate for health care workers, East Providence Mayor Bob DaSilva said he’s thankful his city isn’t in the same boat.
Captain John Potvin, director of Emergency Medical Services in East Providence, tells 12 News that out of the fire department’s 110 personnel, only four remain unvaccinated.
It’s a vaccination rate DaSilva is proud of, especially since other fire departments are struggling with vaccine hesitancy among their staff.
“East Providence is doing the most it can,” DaSilva said.
Potvin credits the high vaccination rate to the support the city and department have given firefighters throughout the pandemic.
“We tried to make sure that they had the resources to make decisions for themselves – that they had information on the vaccine,” Potvin said.
The Oct. 1 vaccine mandate, which directly affects firefighters since most are required to be EMT certified, is at the center of a temporary injunction filed by the R.I. State Association of Firefighters.
The injunction requests firefighters be exempt from the vaccine mandate. Joseph Penza, the attorney representing the R.I. State Association of Firefighters, argued that if the firefighters who don’t comply with the mandate are ousted from the force, it would have a significant impact on departments who have already been stretched thin.
“We’re going to have people lose their lives because we don’t have enough firefighters to respond to emergency calls,” Penza said.
DaSilva is thankful the East Providence Fire Department doesn’t have to worry about that.
“Any municipality that’s dealing with a shortage in staff – that’s going to add not only a burden to their fellow firefighters who are going to have to be held over and have to work extra hours, but also a burden on the budget,” he explained.
DaSilva said the department isn’t experiencing any staffing shortages related to the vaccine, adding that East Providence has actually applied for a $7.3 million federal grant that would allow them to hire an additional 24 firefighters.
The city should find out whether the grant has been approved by the end of the month.
Meanwhile, DaSilva is urging first responders across the state to get vaccinated, not only protect themselves, but also the communities they serve.
“When you have people out there and they are seeing medical professionals who are refusing to get the vaccine, it creates greater doubt,” he said.