It was just 14 months ago that Oregonians were singing the praises of firefighters and EMS personnel who raced up Santiam Canyon to rescue those in the path of a wildfire racing down.
Those brave men and women, and their colleagues across the state who stand up in the face of the worst natural and man-made disasters, rightly were hailed as heroes.
What a difference a year can make.
Today, they are being singled out as possible vectors for the COVID-19 virus and made to stand down if they decline to be vaccinated.
We have said at the outset that people who are able should get vaccinated for the COVID virus. While we respect the right of informed adults to weigh their own options and decide what is right for themselves, we think the vaccine is the best option.
At the same time, we think government diktats mandating vaccinations are wrongheaded and counterproductive. Within a few days we will see the consequences of Gov. Kate Brown’s mandate that first responders be vaccinated by Oct. 18 or lose their jobs.
In the wake of Brown’s mandate, fire and rescue departments across Oregon expect to lose many paid staff and volunteers who choose not to get vaccinated by the vaccination deadline. No one knows for sure how many first responders the state will lose. Each emergency department EO Media Group talked to offered a different prediction — 10%, 25%, 50%.
Genoa Ingram, executive director of the Oregon Volunteer Firefighters Association, said that while no one knows final numbers yet, impacts will likely be far-reaching.
“Nearly every district or department I’ve talked to has indicated there will be some shortage because not everyone is willing or can be vaccinated,” Ingram said.
The vast majority of Oregon’s firefighters, EMTs and paramedics — some experts estimate 90% — are volunteers, many of whom plan to leave if the mandate is enforced. While the mandate only covers licensed medical responders, at most departments fire and medical calls are handled by the same people.
We understand that Brown’s goal is twofold: protect patients and responders while increasing the number of vaccinated Oregonians. That’s noble. But, we have to wonder if it’s worse to risk catching COVID or to die by the side of the road because there aren’t any vaccinated volunteer responders to come to your aid.
On this point, Brown’s office is mute. Her spokesperson declined to comment on the potential consequences of the mandate or measures that could be taken to mitigate shortages in emergency responders.
Many volunteer departments are chronically shorthanded in the best of times. These are hardly the best of times, and there is no crush of the vaccinated suddenly willing to take up a post.
What are the departments to do?
It’s never so bad that politicians and bureaucrats can’t make it worse.