A superior court judge on Tuesday declined to approve an injunction against a vaccine mandate for firefighters and EMS personnel, leaving members of several local departments at risk of losing their jobs if they don’t get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 1.
Judge Melissa Darigan ruled that the state firefighters’ union seeking the injunction failed to demonstrate the vaccine mandate would cause “irreparable harm” if enacted. Darigan said the Rhode Island Department of Health has the right to enact the mandate to protect public health.
North Smithfield Fire and Rescue Chief David Chartier said that two of the department’s 19 members remained unvaccinated as of last Friday. If both of those members are no longer with the department as of Oct. 1, he said, the results could be “catastrophic.”
“It would be catastrophic right now because I have two other existing vacancies,” he said.
Chartier said he initially had four unvaccinated individuals in the department but two of them got the vaccine after the RIDOH announced the mandate last month.
In Woonsocket, Public Safety Director Eugene Jalette said about 10 percent of the Woonsocket Fire Department’s 107 staff members remained unvaccinated as of Monday. Jalette said he does not anticipate any problems with the level of service.
“We’ve been around that number for quite some time, but there have been people who have been vaccinated since the mandate,” he said.
Firefighters in Rhode Island are required to get the vaccine as part of the state’s mandate for healthcare workers in order to maintain their EMT licenses.
Darrigan said on Tuesday she didn’t take the decision lightly. The state firefighters’ union could still challenge the decision in Supreme Court.