Selah Fire Dept. to lose 35% of its firefighters due to vaccine mandate

Fewer personnel will be able to respond to emergency medical calls, chief says

SELAH, Wash. — The Selah Fire Department lost about 35% of its personnel Monday as volunteer firefighters failed to meet the state deadline for first responders to be fully vaccinated.

Selah Fire Chief Jim Lange said some volunteers can still help out, but can only respond to fires — that leaves a significant gap in coverage when it comes to responding to medical calls.

“Unfortunately, if somebody were to need CPR, we may not have the manpower available at that time to do the job properly,” Lange said.

Lange said that could mean a delay in response time or not having enough personnel to handle the incident. He said either way, this will not produce the best results for patients.

By the end of the month, Lange said the department will have lost 17 volunteer firefighters. He said two firefighters have applied for and been granted a religious or medical exemption to the mandate and will have to follow additional COVID-19 protocols.

“An N95 mask, eye protection, gloves, gown and booties on every call for those that aren’t vaccinated,” Lange said.

Lange said the department was short-staffed and having difficulties recruiting new volunteers prior to the pandemic due to the time constraints and commitment surrounding the position. With the addition of COVID-19 concerns, they lost personnel and were able to recruit fewer volunteers.

“A lot of people don’t want to be exposed or possibly exposed to it,” Lange said. “A lot of people are trying to stay home and away from things so the volunteer response is really down right now.”

Lange said the difficulties they’re facing now could impact the way the department’s future in the long-term, especially if they lose any additional volunteers.

“Ultimately if we do not have enough personnel to maintain a volunteer department, we’re going to have to seek other ways to get employees,” Lange said.

Lange said that would likely mean hiring full-time firefighters, which might mean additional costs for taxpayers.

Fire departments across Yakima County are looking for volunteer firefighters, including:

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