San Francisco Fire Department chief executed vaccine mandate, gets COVID
Unvaccinated firefighters on unpaid leave want to work
The vaccinated chief of the San Francisco Fire Department isolated at home with COVID on paid leave during the holidays. At the same time, her unvaccinated firefighters in perfect health were not allowed to work or get paid. San Francisco’s leaders can’t see the hypocrisy and senseless of their vaccine mandate policy.
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San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) Chief Jeanine Nicholson led the city’s early push for universal vaccination and then a vaccine mandate that resulted in hundreds of firefighters being forced off the job in October.
On Dec. 27, Nicholson emailed the department:
Many of you have heard that I recently tested positive for COVID. I appreciate all the well wishes and concerns. I have very mild symptoms and I feel good.
The lastest variant - omicron - is highly contagious. Please continue to take all precautions to keep yourself and your families safe.
Sarah Skammel is an unvaccinated San Francisco firefighter.
“The chief has justified putting us on unpaid leave — without even the option of using our vacation time — because we are ‘an immediate danger to public health and safety,’” Skammel told me Monday.
“Yet this surge in COVID cases, including the chief herself, comes despite the fact that the unvaccinated members have not been allowed to work since October 12th.”
The vaccine mandate deadline hit on Oct. 13 for city employees in “high-risk settings.” Since then, all unvaccinated firefighters have been forced into retirement, put on unpaid leave, taken FMLA, or put on disability while they wait to get officially fired.
“I was angry when I heard about the chief,” an unvaccinated firefighter who is on leave, told me in a phone interview.
“She made it very clear to all of us unvaccinated that she thought we were a direct threat to public health. Then she went from fire station to station judging outside Christmas lights – and face to face, in close quarters - and then she is positive with COVID.”
He’s referring to a media event on Dec. 22 when the Chief went to 12 station houses to judge a decorating competition. (The press release is at the bottom of the story in the sources links for paid subscribers.) Below is a photo of Chief Nicholson with Santa at one of the station stops.
Nicholson did not notify the public or press about her COVID status. She sent an internal email on Dec. 27 which is below:
Lt. Jonathan Baxter, the Public Information Officer for SFFD, told me Monday that the chief is back at work.
I asked if the department is doing contract tracing. Lt. Baxter said that, “Anytime an employee notifies the city of a positive COVID test, our long standing protocol is to notify others who may have been in close contact.”
Vaccine mandate in effect
San Francisco’s mandate in June 2021 for all city workers was for this reason:
Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent transmission and limit COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. Unvaccinated employees, interns, fellows, and volunteers are at greater risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 within the workplace and City facilities, and to the public that depends on City services.
Nicholson has been a staunch advocate for the vaccines for over a year. On Dec. 20, 2020, Chief Nicolson tweeted,
San Francisco Fire Department members are lined up to be vaccinated and will receive their shots as they become available following guidelines established by the Department of Public Health.
The department push came before they could even spell Pfizer. Read the tweet below carefully…
“The chief is ruining lives and hurting people in so many ways,” said an unvaccinated firefighter who asked for anonymity.
“What’s most egregious is that she refused to allow unvaccinated members to get regular COVID tests instead of vaccines. Then in December, they did department-wide testing protocols in lieu of vaccination. It was a burden to do testing for just a few of us, but now they can do it for everybody 24/7?”
The unvaccinated firefighters are part of two lawsuits against the city. One grievance was filed by the labor unions for San Francisco police and fire and the other suit is funded by the group America’s Frontline Doctors. (Both lawsuits are attached at the bottom for paid subscribers to read.)
Omicron hits first responders
As I reported about the DC Fire Department, the vaccination mandate has led to major staff shortages in the past weeks due to the vaccinated with COVID and the unvaccinated not being allowed to work.
San Francisco is facing the same issues. While the city posted on social media on Dec. 31 that it is “fully staffed”, it is doing this by long hours of overtime.
Internal documents shared with me show that, as of today, half of the firefighters on the job are hired on overtime. There is a daily minimum of 313 firefighters needed for the city, and 115 of them are on overtime.
Unlike DC, San Francisco does not share the daily number of COVID positive and vaccinated with its members. I asked Baxter for the stats. “We are aware of approximately 63 cases of COVID-19 in the month of December throughout the entire Fire Department which has multiple worksites across the City,” he texted.
Firefighter Skammel hopes that the fully-vaccinated chief getting COVID and the staffing shortage will make the city change policies.
“My brothers and sisters are working unprecedented hours of mandatory overtime in an attempt to keep the department staffed,” said Skammel. “I am healthy and COVID-free and would love to give them some relief and return to serving the public that I love.”
She added, “I wish the chief a speedy recovery, but I also hope that in the face of a staffing crisis and mounting evidence that the unvaccinated are not an increased risk, that she can put the community first and allow this group of faithful civil servants to return to serving the citizens of San Francisco.”
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