Fire out in front

Once again, Alameda firefighters are leading the way.

Don’t worry:  this isn’t going to be another column about campaign contributions.

Instead, our topic today is . . . vaccination rates.

As we reported last week, the City of Alameda has been investigating the COVID-19 vaccination status of its employees.  This effort included sending a written survey asking City workers to “attest” whether they had been fully vaccinated, received one dose of a vaccine, or were not vaccinated at all.  They also were given the option not to disclose their vaccination status.

Nancy Bronstein, the City’s Human Resources Director, released the results of the study to the Merry‑Go‑Round Friday.  The data showed that, of 103 fire department employees (including both sworn and non-sworn staff), 99 were fully vaccinated, and another had received a single dose; only three people were unvaccinated.  This meant that the vaccination rate for AFD was 96.1 percent.

These numbers are consistent with those previously given to us by Alameda firefighters’ union president Brandon Baley, who had reported that 98 percent of IAFF Local 689 members had been fully vaccinated.  (The union represents firefighters, fire apparatus operators, and fire captains; the complete fire-department employee roster also includes fire chiefs and civilian workers represented by other labor organizations.)

The 96.1 percent vaccination rate for the Alameda fire department puts it at the top of a number of lists.

For one thing, it is higher than the percentage of all Alamedans 12 years and older who have been fully vaccinated (78.6 percent as of August 20, according to the City’s website).  Indeed, it is higher than the percentage of such citizens who have received at least one dose of a vaccine (91.5 percent, according to the website).

Moreover, as the data in the table below prepared by HR shows, the fire department’s vaccination rate also is higher than the comparable rates for the Alameda police department (80.2 percent) and for all City employees as a group (85.7 percent).

Finally, it is higher – sometimes, significantly so – than the vaccination rates for fire departments in other California cities.  For example, when the city of Long Beach conducted a “self-attestation” survey similar to the one done in Alameda, only 66 percent of fire department employees stated they had been fully vaccinated.  (The rate for firefighters alone was 58 percent.)  Likewise, when Sacramento mayor Darrell Steinberg announced a vaccination mandate for municipal employees, he reported that only 55 percent of Sacramento firefighters were vaccinated.  And, in Los Angeles, only about half of fire department employees were fully vaccinated when the city imposed its own mandate at the end of July.

(Around the Bay Area, the only fire department in the same ballpark as AFD is Palo Alto’s, which had a 97.5 percent vaccination rate as of the end of June.  According to a Mercury News survey, the percentages in other cities in Santa Clara County at that time were lower; in the aggregate, 78 percent of fire department personnel county-wide were fully vaccinated.)

Why is the AFD vaccination rate so high?

Firefighters trained as paramedics and emergency medical technicians were included in “Phase 1A” of California’s staged vaccination rollout and thus became eligible for vaccines beginning in December 2020.  When the Alameda County public health department offered to provide vaccinations for “911 first responders at the highest risk of exposure,” the City arranged appointments for AFD firefighters (all of whom, Mr. Baley said, are paramedics or EMTs).

Mr. Baley told us that the “majority” of Local 689 members received their vaccinations through this program in mid-December and were fully vaccinated by January.  Others got vaccinated when a second round of vaccinations became available in March.

At the time, of course, there were no mandates requiring Alameda firefighters (or anyone else) to get vaccinated.  When we asked Mr. Baley why so many of his members did so voluntarily, he responded:

The vaccination rate for Alameda firefighters L[ocal]689 is so high due to the education provided to us early by our management, the IAFF, CPF [the state IAFF “council”], and the CDC.  Our membership took initiative to stay involved with the vaccines, receiving and providing them to the public.  Our group as a whole saw the importance, through history and science, to receive the vaccination.  It was the best way for us to serve the public, keep ourselves safe, and ensure our loved ones we go home to after long shifts are also safe and healthy.

(As Mr. Baley pointed out in his answer, in addition to receiving vaccines themselves, Alameda firefighters played a role in getting other people vaccinated.  Acting on a request from FEMA, Mr. Baley told us, Local 689 sent a minimum of two firefighters per day to assist at the vaccination clinics held at St. Rose Hospital in Hayward, the Oakland Coliseum, and the Alameda County fairgrounds.  He added that, through the fire department’s “community paramedic” program, Alameda firefighters also provided
door-to-door service to civilians who were unable to get to a vaccination site.)

The story for the Alameda police department is different.

On the one hand, the 80.2 percent vaccination rate for APD employees compares favorably with the rates as of the end of July for other police departments in California, such as Los Angeles (46 percent); Long Beach (56 percent), and San Jose (58.2 per cent).  It also beats the 64 percent vaccination rate as of the end of June for sworn law‑enforcement agency personnel in Santa Clara County cities.

On the other hand, it is significantly lower that the vaccination rate for Alameda firefighters.  Police officers didn’t have the same opportunity to get vaccinated right away as firefighters did, since cops were not part of the state’s Phase 1A, and the County’s program for vaccinating first-responders did not include them.  Nevertheless, it is unclear why more Alameda police-department employees didn’t choose to get vaccinated on their own.

When we posed this question to Alameda Police Officers Association president Kevin Horikoshi, he passed.  “I do not think it would be fair for me to state an opinion on the why’s when my belief is each individual has their own reasons for declining to answer or not get vaccinated,” he told us.  “It would not be fair to my members to state an opinion when it would not be based on any actual facts and only my assumption.”

This strikes us as a reasonable position, since we, too, prefer opinions to be based on facts.  But when we put the same question to Police Chief Nishant Joshi, the response we got was – with all due respect – a non sequitur:  “As the Chief, I remain committed to taking all precautions to mitigate the risks associated with this pandemic.  Public safety and employee wellness are among my highest priorities.”

Another point in the data bears highlighting:  Of the 86 police department employees who returned the City’s survey, 10 declined to disclose their vaccination status.

The survey did not ask the respondents who checked the decline‑to-disclose box to explain why they wouldn’t provide the information, and, as his answer quoted above shows, APOA president Horikoshi didn’t want to speculate about that issue, either.  But we do note that our local cops are not unique:  the San Francisco Chronicle reported Friday that 20 police, fire, and sheriff’s department employees in San Francisco refused to disclose their vaccination status in response to that city’s survey.

According to the Chronicle, this decision may carry consequences:  the city’s human resources department is recommending that the police, fire, and sheriff’s department employees who refused to disclose their vaccination status be suspended without pay for 10 days.

We don’t know what sanctions, if any, Ms. Bronstein will be recommending for recalcitrant City of Alameda employees.  Nor do we know what action, if any, City Manager Eric Levitt will take.

In any event, as we reported last week, Mr. Levitt is considering whether to issue what he called a “modified mandate” for all City employees, including firefighters and cops, requiring them to get vaccinated – or to submit to “frequent” testing if they aren’t.  Undoubtedly, the information revealed by the survey will inform his decision.  Just how we’ll have to wait to see.

In the meantime, those of our readers who see vaccination as an essential step toward ending the COVID‑19 pandemic ought to give a shout‑out to our local firefighters.

About Robert Sullwold

Partner, Sullwold & Hughes Specializes in investment litigation
This entry was posted in City Hall, Firefighters and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Fire out in front

  1. William says:

    Alameda has 103 AFD employees? Have you ever seen a stud of how many employees would be optimum given the amount of fire related calls they make, salaries compared to other 80,000 citizen cities, etc.?? Are we being fiscally responsible in regards to AFD?

  2. Continually Municipally Disappointed says:

    You must be new here…….. 🙂

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