Exemptions, but no accommodations: Unvaccinated firefighters call mandate a ‘personal attack’

SPOKANE, Wash. — In 12 days, at least a handful of Spokane firefighters will lose their jobs. They claim their religious beliefs tell them not to get vaccinated.

“It’s personal, it feels like a personal attack against me because of the time I put in, and now I’m just getting swept to the side because I’m not able to get that vaccine,” said Spokane Fire Battalion Chief Michael Bacon.

Before they go, they’re firing back at the city and the state. At least three Spokane firefighters say they would rather leave the job than get vaccinated.

Even firefighters with approved religious or medical exemptions can’t do the job they were trained to do because they won’t comply with Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate.

The city says those firefighters can still work for the city, just not as firefighters on the frontlines.

“Every morning I go to work, I give my wife a kiss, knowing I may not come back the next day – this job is not safe,” said Jason Webster, fire equipment operator and paramedic for Spokane Fire.

When faced with the decision to get vaccinated, Webster and Bacon asked for exemptions, saying their religious beliefs are against it.

“I think the H1N1 when that hit in the early 2000s, I think I got that one but at that time, I just trusted the government and trusted everything about vaccines at that time in my life,” Bacon said. “But things have changed and I think my faith has become stronger, and now I know exactly what I need to do and not to do and it just laid upon my heart that I need to not get the vaccine.”

“I got COVID. I recovered from it. I have natural immunity,” Webster said. “God wants me to make this stand. That it shouldn’t be mandated, it should be a person’s personal choice, and obviously, I feel strongly about it.”

Both say they’re non-denominational Christians but wouldn’t go into detail about what specific religious belief exempted them from the vaccine. Most Christian denominations support the vaccine.

The city granted their exemptions, but won’t allow them to deal directly with the public if they’re unvaccinated.

They’ve been working during the pandemic, wearing full PPE. They say that should be enough to keep those they serve safe.

“Don’t tell me I don’t care about these people right, and that I’m unsafe around these people because just like we go running into a house fire, give me the box, I’m going in,” Webster said.

“For 26 days, I’m not a direct threat, I guess because I got off shift this morning and I am still continuing to work, until October 19, so am I a direct threat? I don’t feel like I’m a direct threat at all,” Bacon said.

Webster says he does not know what he’ll do after Oct. 18. Bacon says he’ll most likely retire.

Neither plan to get vaccinated by the deadline.