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Unvaccinated first responders are running out of time to comply with San Diego's mandate

San Diego Fire Department trucks and personnel assisting with a fire on board the USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego, July 12, 2020.
San Diego Fire Department
San Diego Fire Department trucks and personnel assisting with a fire on board the USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego, July 12, 2020.

Mayor Todd Gloria has made it clear: If you want to continue working for the City of San Diego, you must be fully vaccinated or have a valid exemption by December 1.

The mayor's office told KPBS Gloria was not available for an interview. But in a press release his office issued Friday morning, the mayor emphasized the mandate is necessary to protect members of the public that regularly interact with city employees.

The police and fire departments continue to have some of the highest numbers of unvaccinated employees, nearly 37% of SDPD and more than 16% at San Diego Fire-Rescue.

"We helped vaccinate the public as a whole. Most of us as firefighters have already volunteered to get the vaccine, so we are absolutely pro vaccine," said Jesse Conner, the president of Local 145, representing the city’s firefighters.

"We have to remember we go into people’s homes who are not healthy who are very susceptible to disease and illness, and if not for ourselves, then for the public and for our families we encourage firefighters to get the vaccine," said Conner.

Conner said it's another layer of protection in case the others fail, and a tool to keep them safe like the others they use when fighting fires.

"We encourage the highest level of precaution available. To us it’s the same as the breathing apparatus we wear or the turnouts we wear."

The union president said the union will follow the law, and support exemptions for religious and medical reasons, but not everyone will qualify.

"I know that folks feel like their Constitutional rights are being violated, but we’ve checked with several experienced attorneys and know that to not be accurate," Conner said.

"Unfortunately the Constitution doesn’t guarantee you the right to work for the City of San Diego and if you choose not to comply with multiple options that the city is giving you. I can’t help you. But that’s your personal decision, not mine, and if you personally decide to change your employment because of it I hate to lose you," he said.

Conner says he believes most will comply who are waiting for minor reasons. But lately their message is getting hijacked by a minority that will not comply or take precautions. Worse, he says, firefighters from other departments are showing up at local rallies claiming to represent San Diego firefighters.

"They’re entitled to their personal opinion. But they cross the line when they represent San Diego firefighters because they do not. IAFF Local 145 has represented firefighters for over 102 years and that is not our position, and I really wish they would clarify that that’s their individual position and they just happen to be a firefighter."

Unvaccinated first responders running out of time to comply with San Diego's vaccine mandate

Conner said firefighters want to get past COVID too, and their mission will not waiver.

"We’ll continue to do what we need to do to provide the best service to the citizens of San Diego and we will do that honorably," he added. "It sounds like the best way to do that is to follow the mandate of the city to take the vaccines to take all of the precautions necessary and hopefully put this in the rearview mirror soon."