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San Diego city employees receive early termination notices over vaccine mandate

More than 300 are isolating due to COVID-19 infections
COVID-19 vaccination card
Posted at 5:32 PM, Jan 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-06 20:52:22-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Across the city, first responders are off the streets as they quarantine from COVID-19.

Thursday, San Diego Fire Department says that 156 of their firefighters, 14 of their lifeguards, and 14 employees are isolated Because of the number of employees in isolation, SDFD has had to shut down seven units, including:

Bomb team
Squad 55
Engine 201
Engine 11
Engine 20
Engine 21
Engine 40

San Diego Police Department says 151 employees are currently in isolation, while 94 are pending results. The department did not say how many officers were.

"When we hear about that it's a stress on my husband knowing they are down city employees," shares Shannon, a spouse to a SDPD officer. "And know they are going to have to band all of their resources together, which for them means time for the most part."

Shannon says her husband's department is feeling the impact of those who have had to call out of work to quarantine.

"They are having to share radio frequencies now because they just don't have the coverage in order to supply the area that they are in," she says. "They are seeing even more officers potentially being pulled into overtime," Shannon furthers. "People working detective positions may eventually be pulled to go back out on the street to patrol and that's the concern moving forward."

SDFD told ABC 10News they re-assigned a few firefighters to work in the field to help with the shortage.

When SDFD has a staffing shortage that can’t be filled by overtime personnel, this is the order of priority and description of each team that may be temporarily shut down:

  1. Mobile Operations Detail (MOD) – two-person squad consisting of a captain and a firefighter/paramedic that works Friday and Saturday nights only. Their hours are 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. They operate in the Gaslamp on scooters and address medical aid calls. There is always an engine company assigned to their responses and with the downtown fire stations, there is minimal impacts because of this closure.
  2. Squad 55 – a two-person team consisting of a captain and firefighter/paramedic that is assigned staffed 12 hour shifts from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. There is an engine company always assigned to responses the squad goes on, and with two fire stations in proximity there is minimal impact because of this closure.
  3. The dedicated bomb squad. This team has been a dedicated, two-person, team for the past year or so. They are assigned to station 1 and have a bomb apparatus. If this unit shuts down, the crew goes to an engine company and if a bomb call occurs, they are pulled to address the bomb incident. Ultimately this means SDFD always has bomb trained personnel on duty whether they are on the dedicated crew or on an engine or truck company.
  4. Engine company – a four-person team consisting of a captain, engineer, firefighter and firefighter/paramedic. SDFD is not closing any fire stations. The engine company that is shut down or “browned out” for a shift is always identified at a fire station with two crews so that there is still a crew that can respond to emergencies in that community.  

When the SDFD leadership team decides on which units are available to be temporarily closed, they use the following criteria:

  • Average number of incidents in the last three years
  • Response time of the second-in unit in that area
  • Availability of surrounding stations to assist with coverage on emergency calls

The Mayor's Office released a statement to ABC 10News saying in part:

"The number of public safety personnel who are off the job from having tested positive for COVID-19 has already been impacting City operations."

No information was given from the City of San Diego regarding plans to help mitigate the staffing shortages.

The other major impact on the staffing shortage is the potential termination of dozens of city employees who have refused to get vaccinated, followed the City's mandate, and have not filed an exemption.

On Tuesday, 86 advance termination notices were sent out to city employees, including first responders. This comes on the heels of the Jan 3 deadline for city employees to be fully vaccinated, and many have not complied.

The Mayor's Office says those notices were sent to those who either did not get vaccinated or did not file an exemption. The Office released this statement which says in part:

"While the Mayor hopes no employee chooses to leave City service, he stands by this mandate that will protect our workers, their families, and the public."

According to the City of San Diego, as of Thursday close to 86% of the more than 11,299 employees are fully vaccinated.

89% of the San Diego City Firefighters Association are fully vaccinated. 106 of the firefighters are not, with five filing medical exemptions, and 100 individuals filing religious exemptions.

The City's numbers also show that 73% of the Police Officers Association are fully vaccinated. 489 are not fully vaccinated, with ten of those individuals filing medical exemptions, and 478 filing religious exemptions.

Those who filed exemptions are still waiting for final approval.

"It's going to be a huge hit to the department," said Shannon. "As of now everyone who has an exemption is already looking for other opportunities because they are not sure if they are going to have a job in a month or two."

Shannon's husband has filed an exemption. She says that the department already sees impacts to operations and dispatch.

"That's concerning as a citizen because the officers don't want that, they want to serve," she explains. "But they just don't have the man power and capacity to do that."

SDFD says that so far, no employees have been terminated. Shannon hopes for her husband and his colleagues, the same can be said.

"If we continue to push for this mandate and lose some amazing first responders, and I mean veteran first responders who know this city like the back of their hands," she says. "It's really going to be a determent to the city to lose these good people."