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At deadline, firefighter vaccinations vary by community

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — COVID-19 vaccination rates for Rhode Island firefighters varied by communities Friday, the day of Gov. Dan McKee’s deadline for all staff at state-licensed health care centers.

McKee’s announcement included firefighters because of their roles as emergency medical technicians.

Target 12 called 20 fire departments across Rhode Island to see how they were handling the vaccination deadline, and whether the departments were planning to terminate unvaccinated employees.

For some of the departments, it was a straightforward response. Barrington, Newport and Portsmouth reported their firefighters as being fully vaccinated.

For others, the answers were more complicated.

James Warren, the fire chief at the Cranston Fire Department, told Target 12 that 90% of firefighters were fully vaccinated, specifying that unvaccinated workers will only be allowed to respond to fires and won’t be permitted to work on ambulances.

Warren said he’s not planning to let go of anyone at this time.

West Warwick fire department was a similar story, with 95% fully vaccinated.

Fire Chief Jeff Varone said he planned to submit a corrective action plan for three unvaccinated employees, giving them the opportunity to get a 30-day extension from the state to get vaccinated, show an exemption from the Rhode Island Department of Health, or turn in their EMT licenses.

Varone said he also had no plans to reduce staff.

Central Falls Fire Department officials declined to comment on vaccination rates or plans to let go of unvaccinated employees.

Michael DeMello, Bristol’s fire chief, said 97% of employees were fully vaccinated, with “less than 10 personnel effected by the 10/1 mandate.” He told Target 12 that those employees will not be allowed to work on ambulances.

Similarly, South Kingstown Fire Chief Steven Pinch said of the 16 EMTs, two are unvaccinated and won’t be allowed to work on ambulances. But Pinch also explained that, because the organization is entirely made up of volunteers, he did not have the power to terminate the unvaccinated employees.

Tolly Taylor (ttaylor@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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