L.A. Firefighters, Police Officers Dig In Heels Over Vaccination Mandate

Los Angeles firefighters and police officers who are angry over City Hall’s new requirement that employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 are mounting an offensive.

Firefighters 4 Freedom, a group of Los Angeles city firefighters, was launched recently “to stop the mandated vaccinations for all city employees as well as the citizens of this great country,” according to its website. “We want to bring education and truth to the people without being censored.”

Firefighter John Knox, one of the group’s leaders, appeared on a nationally syndicated radio show and compared vaccination requirements for entering businesses to rules imposed in Nazi Germany, warning that freedoms are at stake.

“I basically stated in the union meeting that I will not submit to this. I will come to work every day, as long as I’m healthy,” Knox said on “The Kate Dalley Show.” “I will not wear a mask. I’m not going to test. And I will not get a shot.”

Knox’s interview followed the release of a YouTube video of an LAFD captain criticizing the vaccination mandate.

At the same time, “hundreds” of sworn and civilian Los Angeles Police Department staff have joined Roll Call 4 Freedom, a subgroup of Firefighters 4 Freedom, said LAPD Sgt. Veronica Saucedo.

“We are supportive of individual rights, personal choice and for managing our own health,” Saucedo said. She said Roll Call’s members are concerned that they will be terminated or fired by the city if they don’t get the vaccine.

Members are also worried that they won’t be able to be promoted, transfer or work new special assignments, she said.

Unions representing police and firefighters are warning that the city will be less safe if officers are terminated or leave over the vaccination mandate.

Courts have in the past upheld compulsory vaccination laws. Still, the pushback from employee groups highlights the political hurdles city leaders could face as they seek to vaccinate workers.

Asked to address the criticisms, Mayor Eric Garcetti urged people to take the vaccine.

“The Delta variant continues to spread, and it is more important than ever that people get vaccinated right now,” Garcetti said. “This requirement is critical to protecting the health and safety of our workers and Angelenos.”

Garcetti last month signed off on a plan requiring city employees to be vaccinated by early October. Employees with medical conditions or “sincerely held religious beliefs” are exempt but must submit to regular testing.

The law doesn’t say what happens if someone refuses to get vaccinated without an approved exemption. Details about the proposal are being worked out between city leaders and unions.

The resistance by first responders, who regularly come into contact with members of the public, to be vaccinated is concerning to some. Jimmie Woods-Gray, president of the city’s Board of Fire Commissioners, said the vaccination fight is also about the role of government.

“It’s the [political] right movement,” Woods-Gray said. “We have always known that we have them in the Fire Department, but now they’re speaking out. And it’s not the right thing to do.

“They can organize all that they want to. But we’re not backing down,” she added.

Firefighters 4 Freedom states on its website that the vaccination mandate “is not a left [vs.] right political issue.”

Kevin McBride, an attorney representing Firefighters 4 Freedom, said he plans to file a lawsuit on behalf of the group against the city and county over the vaccination mandates. He said Firefighters 4 Freedom has about 350 members.

“They want a right to choose what goes into their own body,” said McBride, who also represents individual firefighters. He said he understands concerns by the public about unvaccinated first responders and wants to find a “middle ground.”

“We have to protect the public,” he said. “But we shouldn’t be forced to take a vaccine.”

McBride said he planned to challenge the law by relying on a privacy clause in the California Constitution. His clients also have rights through the state’s Medical Experimentation Act, he said.

At an informal meeting with LAFD firefighters last month that was streamed on YouTube, McBride outlined the group’s legal strategy. At one point, he warned the firefighters: “Don’t go get your vaccine, seriously. … In my opinion, it would hurt your health.”

McBride told The Times he was giving his opinion. He said he has had COVID-19. “I trust my body’s immune system. That’s my plan. My strategy is for not everyone,” he said.

Health experts have said the COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and save lives. Data released last month by L.A. County showed that hospitals are seeing a greater number of COVID-19 cases among unvaccinated people who are young and otherwise healthy than earlier in the pandemic.

A Fire Department spokeswoman said the agency understands that the vaccination issue is “polarizing.”

From www.latimes.com

More from The Latest News.