Vashon Island Fire and Rescue in Crisis

We urge the VIFR commissioners to resolve this situation soon.

  • Wednesday, September 1, 2021 8:02am
  • Opinion

The people of Vashon have spoken.

And posted. And weighed in at public meetings. And written letters to the editor.

In the vast majority, islanders have expressed dismay about the news that Fire Chief Charles Krimmert refuses to comply with Gov. Inslee’s mandate for state workers, healthcare and firefighters to become vaccinated by Oct. 18, and has instead proposed that he will give up serving as an EMT so that he can continue on as chief.

They have also expressed understandable shock that he was not already vaccinated.

Krimmert, as a first responder, must serve people who are particularly vulnerable, and one of the oft-repeated messages of Vashon’s pandemic response efforts — which Krimmert has served as incident commander of — is that vaccination is the best way to protect the vulnerable.

Krimmert has never addressed the question of why he has not gotten the shots since being eligible for them in December of 2020.

Instead, he threw more gasoline on the fire at last week’s commissioner’s meeting, when he declared that he was showing leadership by standing up against the governor’s mandate.

But who is Krimmert leading? Where are his followers?

There is vanishingly small support on Vashon for Krimmert’s proposed mandate workaround. On a ferry-dependent island, we need all first responder hands on deck in an emergency. It’s a great idea, obviously, for our fire chief to have the credentials to pitch in if he is needed. And Krimmert has, in fact, gone out on many fire and medical calls during his tenure.

Krimmert has said that being an EMT is an “insignificant” portion of his job, and only given statistics on the times he had served as a lead EMT. But all the life-saving fire and medical calls he has rolled out on have been important.

The worst part of this crisis is the way it has shaken confidence in our fire district. It’s distressing to read and hear reasonable islanders say — as they have in letters to The Beachcomber and comments at public meetings — that they wonder if, in a crisis, they’d be better off not calling 911.

We urge the VISD commissioners to resolve this situation soon.

The narrow motion passed at the last board meeting — stipulating only, for legal reasons, that Krimmert may not serve as an EMT as of Oct. 19 — was misunderstood by many in the community, and taken as the board’s approval of Krimmert’s proposed workaround.

That wasn’t the case: The chair of the board, Andy Johnson, has now said that he and at least one other commissioners are disinclined to adapt Krimmert’s job description to allow him to serve only as chief. If they are going to take that stance, we urge them to do it soon, before confidence in the district further erodes.

The vaccine mandate was created for people like Chief Krimmert — vaccine holdouts, many of whom work directly with vulnerable populations — who could not be persuaded any other way than by the threat of losing their livelihoods, to get vaccinated in the face of the deadly Delta surge.

In an interview this week, Dr. Jim Bristow, co-coordinator of Vashon’s Medical Reserve Corp, said that Vashon is now experiencing about a case per day — something that hasn’t happened since the darkest winter days of the pandemic.

Against this backdrop, our island kids have just returned to full-time, five-day-a-week school.

We are crossing our fingers, and holding our breath, hoping that the guidelines set forth by the Washington Department of Health and Public Health – Seattle King County will hold, and keep the virus at bay. We are also very glad to hear that the school district, in its efforts to keep our community safe, will also consult and partner with Vashon’s MRC — an enormous public health resource to our community.

Here at The Beachcomber, we will continue to watch closely to see how our elected officials and well-paid public servants respond to this long pandemic and all its permutations, and if they are in step with the remarkable community they serve.

Bigger news outlets are not watching Vashon. It is our hard responsibility, here at the newspaper, to keep the community informed about matters that affect us. We will continue to do that to the best of our ability.

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