Dallas Fire-Rescue Trainee Fired for Not Getting COVID-19 Vaccine | Dallas Observer


Dallas Fire-Rescue Trainee Fired for Not Getting COVID-19 Vaccine

Dallas Fire-Rescue new hires could face disciplinary action, including termination, if they can't complete training because they're not vaccinated for COVID-19.
Dallas Fire-Rescue new hires could face disciplinary action, including termination, if they can't complete training because they're not vaccinated for COVID-19. Daniels Schludi via Unsplash
Dallas Fire-Rescue (DFR) employees in training could get fired if they’re not vaccinated for COVID-19, Deputy City Manager Jon Fortune said in a memo last week.

At their meeting last week, members of Dallas’ Public Safety Committee asked DFR whether it requires recruits to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to be eligible for hire. They also asked if Dallas College’s Brookhaven Campus, which partners with the department for the paramedic program, requires students to be vaccinated against the virus.

Neither DFR nor Brookhaven requires the COVID-19 vaccine, but the participating hospitals in the program do, Fortune’s memo said. So if DFR trainees can’t or won’t abide by this requirement, they could face disciplinary action, including termination.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order in August 2021 preventing government entities from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine. A couple of months later, he signed another executive order to prevent any entity from mandating the vaccine for customers or employees.

But the hospitals where the paramedic training took place were still requiring the vaccine for staff, including trainees. The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) sets the standards for paramedic training, which requires a set number of hours in a hospital as well as in an ambulance. After the vaccine was developed and hospitals started mandating it, DSHS created an exception under which trainees could double up on ambulance hours in lieu of their hospital hours to avoid the vaccine requirement. But that ended in January 2022.

That same month, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a rule by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service that requires hospitals and healthcare providers to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for staff, including paramedic students. So Brookhaven announced that paramedic students who were not fully vaccinated by March 15, 2022, would be dropped from the paramedic program, according to the memo. They also wouldn’t be eligible for re-enrollment until they got vaccinated.

“This is kind of a back door mandate where they’re not saying you have to have the vaccine, but to continue training, you have to have the vaccine." – Jim McDade, Dallas Fire Fighters Association

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DFR told all employees enrolled or waiting to get scheduled for the paramedic training program about the deadline to get vaccinated. There were alternatives offered at the time though. Employees could opt to enroll in private paramedic training approved by DFR at their own expense. They could also get reimbursed for what it would have cost the department to get them trained through Brookhaven. But Fortune’s memo said DFR isn’t aware of any local paramedic training programs that do not require clinical rotations in healthcare facilities that also meet all the requirements of the state’s paramedic licensing.

“Therefore, employees who do not or cannot complete their paramedic certification through Brookhaven will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment,” the memo said.

President Joe Biden’s administration announced that the COVID-19 national public health emergency would end on May 11. If that happens, vaccine requirements at the hospitals where the paramedic training takes place could be changed in the future.

Jim McDade, president of the Dallas Fire Fighters Association, said the department hires people before they get their certifications. New hires go through EMT school, then paramedic training and are later trained for firefighting, McDade said. He said some people end up getting vaccinated to attend paramedic training. Some quit. And in December 2022, someone got fired because they couldn’t start paramedic training because they weren’t vaccinated for COVID-19.

McDade sent the Observer a document detailing the termination action against this DFR employee. The comments section of the document says: “Member was terminated because he refused to get vaccinated for COVID-19. This is a violation of Dallas Fire-Rescue Department Emergency Medical Service Pre-Employment Acknowledgement.”

The pre-employment acknowledgement that DFR employees must sign states they understand their training requires a series of vaccinations for conditions such as tetanus and hepatitis A and B. It also says that other vaccinations may be required in order to complete mandatory in-hospital training.

“This is kind of a backdoor mandate where they’re not saying you have to have the vaccine, but to continue training, you have to have the vaccine,” McDade said.

McDade wants the department and state to continue offering the alternatives that they did before, like the extra ambulance time in lieu of hospital hours and allowing the employees to get trained privately. He said DFR employees who opt to get trained privately should get reimbursed in full by the department. Otherwise, McDade said, the department could be missing out on good employees.

“Putting as few obstacles in place that’s facing these guys is the best thing to do to get more people on the street,” McDade said. “By forcing people to get vaccinated who choose not to get vaccinated, we’re taking away a whole subset of employees.”

Jason Evans, a spokesperson for DFR, wouldn’t say whether any employee had been fired as a result of their vaccine status. But he said the quality of paramedic training is the city’s top priority.

“DFR strives to ensure that paramedics have both the training and experience to respond effectively to the rigorous demands of emergency response within the city of Dallas,” Evans said in an emailed statement.

He said the department can’t offer an alternative like it did before because “DFR is unaware of any such program which provides adequate hands-on education while also satisfying all requirements of both state paramedic licensure and local credentialing.”

Fortune’s memo said city staff are looking out for changes that may come after Biden ends the COVID-19 national health emergency and will notify DFR employees in paramedic training accordingly.
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn

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