The unvaccinated status of one public official has become a point of tension on Vashon, an idyllic island community in Puget Sound, that ranks among the highest vaccinated parts of Washington state.
Vashon Fire Chief Charles Krimmert does not intend to get vaccinated, despite being required to under Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccine mandate, the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber reported last week.
The news has become a topic of discussion in the community and has left the Vashon Island Fire and Rescue’s Board of Commissioners wrestling with decisions about Krimmert’s employment and how the state requirement applies to the agency.
This issue highlights the nuances and uncertainty surrounding Washington’s vaccine mandate, among the strictest in the country, as officials statewide stare down Inslee’s Oct. 18 deadline for certain workers to be fully vaccinated as a condition of employment.
Vashon fire commissioners, who oversee Krimmert and the department’s budget, met in executive session Friday to discuss the personnel matter.
After an hour of closed discussion, board chair Andy Johnson announced to a virtual room of more than a dozen members of the public that no immediate action will be taken, though they intend to be in full compliance with the governor’s order come October.
Subject to the mandate are EMTs, paramedics and any firefighters, who are provide health care services in a professional capacity without holding a credential, said Mike Faulk, a spokesperson for the governor’s office.
As fire chief, Krimmert is required to maintain an EMT license and to be available to respond to calls, according to Johnson, who said the board is considering the possibility of rewriting the job description.
Krimmert declined to comment to The Seattle Times.
“If the district wants to keep me, they’ll keep me. If they want to fire me, they’ll fire me,” he told Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber, which reported Krimmert will seek to be released of his duty to hold an EMT status, and stay on as chief.
The board is still figuring out legal details and how the mandate also applies to volunteers and employees, who respond to fire-suppression calls without any patient care, Johnson said.
“It gets a bit squishy. We’re still struggling with some of those aspects of the mandate and how its going to be interpreted,” he said.
Aside from Krimmert, he said only one other fire department employee — a firefighter with an EMT license — is unvaccinated.
According to Faulk, the mandate covers any on-site worker in a health care setting, which includes “mobile clinics or other vehicles where health care is delivered.” That includes any fire department vehicle if it is being used for health care services, he said.
King County and Seattle also have vaccine mandates, however the county mandate only applies to employees in the executive branch of the county like the sheriff’s or assessor’s office. Vashon Island Fire Department is not a county entity and therefore would not fall under the county’s mandate, according to Chase Gallagher, a spokesperson for the King County Executive’s office.
Public feedback mix of condemnation and praise
Krimmert’s unvaccinated status has been met with mixed reception on the island.
Johnson said there’s been a great amount of public feedback — with calls for Krimmert’s resignation, as well as praises for his stance against the mandate.
Vashon resident Dale Greenfeld, 67, said she had little sympathy for Krimmert’s situation. He should be fired if he does not get vaccinated, whether he maintains his EMT license or not, she said.
“He can’t have his way. It’s just wrong at a number of levels,” said Greenfield, who is immunocompromised and recently got her third dose.
With such a large number of Vashon Island residents vaccinated, Greenfeld disagrees with any characterization that vaccination is a polarizing issue.
In Vashon, 94% of residents ages 12 and up have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, as of this week, and 84% are fully vaccinated, according to Public Health – Seattle & King County.
Vaccination success has been, in part, due to the efforts of volunteers at Vashon Emergency Operations Center, which Krimmert oversees as incident commander, said Rick Wallace, EOC manager and vice president of VashonBePrepared.
Krimmert’s vaccination status came as a surprise to Wallace.
Since March 2020, the two have talked almost daily as they’ve helped organize vaccination and testing efforts on the island, Wallace said. Just this week, they spoke about what administering booster shots will look like later this year.
“There has never been a chief fire on Vashon that has supported our volunteer efforts near the level of (Chief Krimmert),” he said.
Wallace said he plans to publish a letter, signed by four residents who have helped the island’s coronavirus prevention efforts, that while Krimmert has done much to help the island’s efforts against the pandemic, they disagree with his decision.
“We worry for his safety just as we worry about all our other neighbors who are not yet vaccinated,” the letter states. “Sadly, we also worry that some may seize on his position as rationale against vaccination.”