Firefighter Bonnie Stockbruegger said she had an idea a vaccine mandate was coming for Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) firehalls, but her heart still broke when it did.
Wearing a ball cap with a patch for the Scotch Creek-Lee Creek Fire Department, of which she is a member, Stockbruegger was part of a small group of Shuswap residents who gathered outside the CSRD office building in Salmon Arm Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 7, to deliver a request: that the board reconsider its decision to extend its recent vaccine mandate to its firehalls.
“They didn’t even give us the choice, they just said if you don’t get vaccinated at such-and-such a date that we’re going to put you on leave of absence,” said Stockbruegger, adding she’d asked if testing could be done, and that she would be willing to cover the cost, but this wasn’t an option.
At the Nov. 18 board meeting, the CSRD’s board of directors unanimously passed a vaccine mandate for the majority of those working under its jurisdiction — including paid on-call (volunteer) firefighters – who must be fully vaccinated by Jan. 3, 2022.
In a Dec. 3 media release, the CSRD said rather than providing proof of vaccination, some of its firefighters had opted to take a leave of absence.
“We respect the firefighters’ right to make their own decisions about vaccination,” said Derek Sutherland, team leader of CSRD protective services. “But as an organization, we need to be committed to the safety of our teams and the public. This policy was put in place by the board because vaccines are among the best methods of protecting the health and safety of you, and those around you, from the risks of COVID-19.”
Lena Reynolds, who organized the Tuesday gathering outside the CSRD building, said her son and husband, who also serve with the Scotch Creek-Lee Creek Fire Department, are among the firefighters put on a leave of absence.
“They didn’t wish for this, they wanted to go far in the fire department and now they’re not going to be able to,” said Reynolds. “After all their training, all the money spent.”
Reynolds too said she would have rather the CSRD opted for testing.
“What they’re concerned about is us transmitting the virus within the halls, but if you’re tested and have a negative test there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to go to the hall,” said Stockbruegger.
Two at a time, Reynolds, Stockbruegger and those who showed up to offer their support, quietly entered the CSRD building to deliver a signed letter to Sutherland and the board asking that they reconsider the CSRD’s vaccine mandate including volunteer paid on-call volunteer firefighters. After doing so, they left the property.
Reynolds also set up a petition on change.org asking the same, and is an administrator on a Facebook page titled STOP the CSRD FIREFIGHTER MANDATE.
“This has nothing to do with COVID or any of the rest of it; this has to do with the safety of our communities and all of the money that went into training these people,” said Reynolds.
In the media release, Sutherland assured that despite the loss of some members, fire services will be maintained in all the CSRD’s 13 fire departments, adding most of the departments have “sufficient fully vaccinated members to maintain accreditations, and current fire response times should not be affected.”
“This has been difficult,” commented Sutherland. “Firefighters become like a family and we did not want to lose anyone. Should circumstances change, we hope to be welcoming them back.”
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