NORTH PROVIDENCE – Just one town firefighter was still holding out past an Oct. 1 deadline to get vaccinated, after more than 10 of them received their vaccines instead of risking the loss of their jobs.
“They all got vaccinated,” said Mayor Charles Lombardi.
With Rhode Island’s approach on vaccination of health workers still up for discussion and possible change still in the mix, Mayor Charles Lombardi said he’s calling for that firefighter to be suspended without pay “until further discussion or notice from the state” on the status of EMT licenses related to vaccination status.
Lombardi had issued a letter to firefighters that they faced the prospect of losing their jobs if they didn’t get vaccinated by the Oct. 1 deadline.
The mayor said he views this end result as a success, with no potential for disrupted emergency response operations.
“I said from the beginning my job is to make sure our personnel would abide by the mandate, and my is job was to make sure we provided the residents with the best possible safety and a healthy response,” he said.
Lombardi explained that the town “did have one other individual who thought he was going to hold out,” but when a moment of truth came and he faced the possibility of passing up an overtime shift as a result, he “quickly came forward with the paperwork showing that he got the vaccine.”
The firefighter claimed he had gotten the vaccine when first notified of the mandate, which led Lombardi and Fire Chief John Silva to question why he had said he was holding out and telling other people that he wasn’t getting vaccinated.
Several of the firefighters received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine, he said.
The Breeze reported last week after Superior Court Judge Melissa Darigan rejected an injunction request sought by the state’s firefighters to block a vaccination mandate, leaving unvaccinated firefighters at risk of losing their EMT licenses and jobs if they don’t get vaccinated by Oct. 1.
Attorney Vincent Ragosta, representing Smithfield, North Providence and Pawtucket on the matter, said all three communities were happy that the judge sided with them in a “thorough and exhaustive ruling” against the firefighters on all counts that the vaccine mandate doesn’t constitute as a new working condition and that they won’t suffer irreparable harm.
“It was a resounding victory for the town and the Department of Health,” Ragosta told The Breeze for an update on a story that happened past last week’s North Providence Breeze deadline.
North Providence had up to 13 firefighters who still weren’t vaccinated leading up to the deadline.
In court, Ragosta questioned whether unions had standing if nearly all firefighters are vaccinated.
The R.I. State Association of Fire Fighters challenged the vaccine mandate from the Rhode Island Department of Health, attorney Joseph Penza Jr. making the case that losing EMT licenses and jobs would cause irreparable harm as firefighters are replaced, and that this harm couldn’t be undone.
Ragosta made the case that firefighters must show immediate threat of harm or injury, which they failed to do, and that any loss of license or job can be addressed through the remedy of the grievance and arbitration process, meaning their arguments don’t meet the test.
Darigan ruled that the R.I. Department of Health has the constitutional authority to institute a vaccine mandate to protect public health. Aligning with Ragosta’s comments, she did note that if firefighters are fired, and if the regulation is also later determined to be invalid, they could be compensated for damages and potentially get their jobs back.