A group of former Eastside Fire & Rescue firefighters who lost their jobs because they wouldn’t comply with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate has filed a legal claim against the agency, seeking a total of $171.5 million in damages.
A former captain said he and nine former firefighters filed the tort claim, a precursor to a potential lawsuit, during Thursday’s board of directors meeting in Issaquah. The claim alleges the fire agency discriminated against the unvaccinated firefighters based on their religious views, age and sex when they weren’t provided accommodations to stay on the job.
Frank Dahlquist, the former captain, wrote that Eastside Fire & Rescue “failed to substantiate any hardship, undue burden or direct threat to the workplace as an unvaccinated firefighter” and approved his exemption based on his religious beliefs but failed to accommodate him. Dahlquist, who was terminated earlier this year after a six-month leave of absence, wrote the decision caused “a loss of income, benefits, pain and suffering, and mental anguish.”
In a statement, Eastside Fire & Rescue Chief Jeff Clark declined to comment specifically on the claim, but said the department provided all nonvaccinated workers an opportunity to apply for an exemption and participate in an accommodation process.
The sought damages total $171.5 million among the 10 firefighters. Dahlquist’s, for example, list $6.7 million in economic damages, $8 million in noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering, and $5.9 million in attorney fees. But he said the claim isn’t about money.
“[Firefighting] is a calling and not a job,” he said. “We just want to come back. None of us want to go through this process.”
Under Gov. Jay Inslee’s order, firefighters, along with other health care workers, state workers and educational employees, had to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 2021. Employers could grant medical or religious exemptions to unvaccinated workers, though each agency had discretion on whether workers could be accommodated through measures like mask requirements or testing.