Rutland Town firefighters will not be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, so long as they follow other safety protocols.

After an executive session at its Feb. 16 meeting, the Select Board, acting as the Board of Health, voted 4-0 to not require members of the town fire department to be vaccinated, though if they wish to participate in fire department activities they must follow protocols as outlined by the fire chief.

Selectman Joe Denardo was not present at the meeting.

On Wednesday, Selectman John Paul Faignant, who serves as the town health officer as well, said the board had already required every member of the police department to be vaccinated against COVID-19. All police personnel have been vaccinated, he said, but then questions arose when the board considered having the fire department follow suit.

“But none on the police department had the issues that some on the fire department have, and there are some valid reasons why people should not get a vaccine,” said Faignant. “Just speaking generally, there are medical conditions that your doctor will tell you, well, you’re better off not to get it if you don’t have to get it.”

He said he couldn’t speak to the specific reasons fire department members had for not wanting to be vaccinated.

He said the majority of the department’s members have been vaccinated.

“I know the ones that haven’t they all have pretty good reasons,” he said.

Members who opt not to get the vaccine must follow extra safety measures, he said, such as temperature checks and signing in when they go to the station.

Faignant said police tend to have more close physical interactions with members of the public than firefighters.

The protocols, he said, are what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires for employers not mandating coronavirus vaccines.

In Pittsford, at least 25 members of the volunteer fire department have had the COVID-19 vaccine, said Chief Bill Hemple. There are about 42 members total in the department. He said the shot isn’t mandatory.

Neither is it mandatory in the Rutland City Fire Department, according to Chief Bill Lovett. He said Wednesday, that as of the middle of last week, the majority of the department’s 28 firefighters had the final round of shots for the vaccine.

“It was a meeting between police and fire around the state, and somebody asked if it was mandatory, and I can’t remember exactly the response, but I think it was more, ‘Vermont is a place where people make choices and we’ll leave it at that,’ type of a thing,” he said.

Since March, city firefighters have had to have temperature checks when they arrive at the station and before they sleep there. Masks must be worn around others and the work areas are regularly cleaned, according to Lovett.

All the COVID-19 protocols have to be followed by firefighters whether they’re vaccinated or not, said Lovett.

“It was made available, each member made their own decision, but as the precautions go, if you follow the precautions, you’ve minimized the chances of spreading it,” he said. “But if somebody chose not to, they wouldn’t be treated any differently, they’d have to follow the same precautions that the rest of us do.”

He said firefighter’s duties won’t be modified based on whether or not they’ve been vaccinated.

According to the Vermont Department of Health, there is little reason to not get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We are not aware of Vermont firefighters as a category opting out, stated Ben Truman, public health communication officer with the department. “From a public health perspective, there is no justification for anyone who can get vaccinated to not do so.”

keith.whitcomb

@rutlandherald.com

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