At the Vashon Island Fire District (VIFR) board meeting on Aug. 26, six islanders made public comments about Fire Chief Charles Krimmert’s decision not to be vaccinated in response to Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate for him to do so, and his request to continue serving in his role as chief while stepping down as an emergency medical technician (EMT) for the district. Here is what those islanders said, edited for brevity.
I don’t think it is a polarizing issue … I think, maybe, it is emotionally polarizing to some of you on the board, but I think if you could take into consideration Vashonites — almost 90% of us have vaccinated ourselves against COVID.
I’ve lost friends, I’ve lost family — if Chief Krimmert doesn’t have a religious objection or a health objection, it’s his choice not to get vaccinated. But I don’t think he has the right, then, to treat anybody as an EMT. It’s too much of a roulette, taking a chance with someone being unvaccinated but wanting to be an EMT. I think you either make the sacrifice and get vaccinated or you resign, but you can’t have it both ways.
I just want to support Chief Krimmert. It’s my understanding he’s pretty much like the CEO — he doesn’t go on calls. My sister was rescued from something recently by the fire department, it’s not like Chief Krimmert is going out and pulling someone out of a bathtub or whatever. I really appreciate his character and the relationship he has with the community. And I want to say I believe he should be retained and perhaps allowed to drive his own car and not use the car there. I think it is very important to keep him and I believe in his perspective. I think it would be a travesty if he was fired, and I’m a retired nurse on the island, I’ve lived here about 26 years, I’m 70 years old.
I’m frankly appalled that the individual who has been leading the effort on this island to trace and vaccinate individuals to keep more people from dying of COVID-19 is not vaccinated. I don’t know how he could have been doing this function, supporting vaccinations and without himself being vaccinated and setting a model not only for the department but the community. COVID is not a game.
The governor issued an edict, we’re required to follow it, I think our fire chief is setting an extremely bad example for anyone on the island who is not vaccinated. Why should they get vaccinated if the fire chief is not vaccinated? And it’s just flat dangerous. If we have a real emergency on the island, we’re saying we have a fire chief who will not be able to respond because it would be against what the governor has mandated. I don’t know how you settle this. I don’t want to see the chief’s job split in two where one half is a business manager and he gets to keep that.
Since all of this started, I have been really grateful for the leadership on this island by everyone involved to do everything possible to keep folks safe, to get tested, to push the vaccine effort when it started and I’ve been really grateful for that for 18 months, or however long it’s been. I think, like many folks, I was really shocked to see the news about Chief Krimmert, knowing what a pivotal role he’d played in all of that. I think for me, the challenge becomes how to have faith in our public health system and in all of our emergency response folks on the island. [A family member] is immune-compromised, my child is too young to get vaccinated, and so if something happens when if I actually have to call 911, I’m now going to be worried it might be more dangerous to have those folks in my home than not calling.
I’m troubled by the chief’s request to be released from a large portion of his job. Anybody can ask that I suppose but I know very few employers who would approve such a major change without a compensation change as well. And I’m also troubled by the statement, “If they want to fire me they’ll fire me if they want to keep me they’ll keep me.” That, to me, doesn’t give the sense of someone who is particularly committed to their role or to their work.
The most important part, I think, of the chief’s position is one of leadership, we should be able to look to the chief for leadership. A good deal of leadership comes from example. Not what someone says, but what someone does. I believe, although it hurts me to do so — I’ve talked to the chief on several occasions, been involved in my local emergency preparedness group and he has come out to our meetings and so forth, but this is really beyond the pale. I think that he has shown a lack of leadership that cannot be excused and I would urge you not to make accommodations. If the accommodations were requested for medical or religious reasons, I could perhaps understand this. But I cannot understand what the basis of this is or why the commissioners would make such an accommodation.
(Speaking to the Chief after his defense of his administration) I think you’ve done a great job. I like you, we’ve worked together in the past. But your decision isn’t based on what the governor said, your decision is based on your own personal preference, because the governor just did it, and it’s been since January that you could have gotten vaccinated, and you’ve declined to do that. I have friends who cannot get drugs now because so many people are in the hospital with COVID, so many hospitals are maxed out with their ICU beds because they refused to listen to the CDC and get their vaccination. And this is going to go on and on and on because people aren’t getting vaccinated. So to blame it on the governor is, I think, not true. It’s your own personal decision, not because of the governor, but what you chose to do. And for you to say that [being an] EMT is not your job — you are one of the EMTs here on the island, and we don’t have a lot of them a lot at times. Maybe it’s been a while since you have been leading EMT, but you certainly have rolled out on a lot of calls where your services are needed.