18-year-old firefighter in East King County fired due to state COVID-19 vaccine mandate
18-year-old firefighter in East King County fired due to state COVID-19 vaccine mandate

18-year-old firefighter in East King County fired due to state COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Ten firefighters in eastern King County are now out of work– they were released from Eastside Fire & Rescue on Monday because they were not vaccinated against COVID-19.

Chief Jeff Clark said the agency is following the governor’s mandate that all emergency services providers be fully vaccinated before October 18, 2021. Clark said Eastside offered several vaccination clinics as well as opportunities for staff to apply for dispensation and participate in an accommodation process. The boss said these efforts led to a vaccination rate of 94% among employees.

“This figure reflects the COVID-19 vaccination rate in the communities we serve. The department and our board are saddened by the loss of some of our firefighters, but also have deep respect for their personal choices. As the pandemic continues, EF&R will continue to follow state and local mandates and guidelines, “Clark wrote in a statement.

For Rocky Martinez, 18 years with the agency came to an emotional end.

“Never in a million years. I thought I would go out on an injury or a handicap before this ever happened,” Martinez said, holding back tears.

Martinez was a lieutenant and veteran who served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He said working for Eastside was his dream ever since he was a second in high school. Martinez remembers interning with firefighters there for three years while he was a teenager.

He started his career with Eastside after completing his second tour of Iraq with the US Marine Corps.

“I live in North Bend, I grew up in Issaquah / Sammamish, I graduated from Issaquah High School – that’s why I chose Eastside Fire. It was my dream agency, the only agency I wanted to work for because I would give back to the same community that gave me while I was growing up, “Martinez said. “This was a call to be a firefighter. I see the guys and girls running by calling, and it just tears my heart to pieces every time because I should.”

Martinez, a second lieutenant, two captains and six firefighters are now out of work because they have not been vaccinated against COVID-19. He said they were all put on leave on October 19th.

“They’re losing 167 years of experience with the 10 members leaving,” Martinez said.

“The dedication we have to society, the risk involved in working with COVID all the time safely with PPE, daily tests worked. And then, unfortunately, it feels like this unreasonable choice is being placed on us. And it has certainly been emotional for us, because this is not just a job, it’s a calling, ”said Frank Dahlquist, an Eastside captain who also lost his job due to being unvaccinated.

Martinez was head of the agency’s Hazmat unit. When the COVID-19 outbreak began in 2020, he said he was one of the members who helped Eastside get its only transport unit for COVID-positive patients.

“Only for COVID-positive patients. I helped set it up. I worked on that A-car during the entire pandemic until October 19. I transported many COVID-positive patients. Not once did I get COVID-positive, said Martinez.

Martinez is a husband and father and said his parents and grandparents had a strong background in the Catholic and Christian faiths. He said his religious exemption was approved, but also said that the housing he requested to keep his job was rejected. These homes included security measures such as wearing a mask at all times, daily COVID tests and social distancing whenever possible.

Martinez said he thought he would spend the rest of his career with Eastside. But when it came down to his Christian conviction not to get vaccinated and lose his job, he said his decision ultimately came from a higher power.

“He’s the one who’s guiding me. He’s guiding me through Iraq, and I can ‘t go against that now. I prayed when this came out. I’ve heard everyone say just get the vaccine, it’s easy and you can go. “Back to work. But I can not go against God’s will. Not me,” Martinez said. “Every important decision I ask is to find out what God wants me to do. He has an ultimate plan for all of us.”

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