ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The International Association of Fire Fighters in Orange County met with the county’s human resources department Monday to begin negotiations over the county’s mask mandate.
During the meeting, dozens of Orange County firefighters and their families stood outside with signs, protesting against the vaccine mandate.
“We transport and treat vaccinated and unvaccinated. They’re still getting COVID every day. This is about family, and we serve our family and we want them to stand up for us to protect our right to vaccination and not let an overreaching, bureaucratic mayor of Orange County tell us what we can and cannot do to our bodies,” Orange County firefighter Wendy Williams said.
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In July, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings announced an internal order requiring county employees, including first responders, to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30. The order has an opt-out for religious and medical reasons.
The mayor discussed the order during Monday’s press conference.
“This is a public health crisis that we’re dealing with and we have made some decisions that some may think were tough decisions, but for me, I’ve spent a full career of saving people’s lives and sometimes saving them from taking their own life,” Demings said, who was formerly the county sheriff.
The firefighter union met with the county’s human resources department to discuss provisions to the mandate. Some firefighters were outside demanding the right for choice, calling for Gov. Ron DeSantis to get involved.
“Since this whole thing has started we’ve been protecting ourselves and the public since day one. Wearing the gowns, the masks, we’ve been social distancing,” said Jason Wheat. “I don’t understand why they’re forcing this on us now. It’s already a stressful job, now this is adding stress to our families and our jobs and it’s not right.”
“The vaccines we are being forced upon is a loss of freedom,” said Williams. “I’m hoping Governor DeSantis sees this and the community. We’re there for them and we want them there for us.”
As of 6 p.m. Monday, a bargaining agreement had not yet been reached, but the group discussed some preliminary points to a provision including:
- Paid time off as an incentive for Firefighters and Paramedics who are vaccinated.
- Having an opt-out option.
- Weekly testing for those who remain unvaccinated, including those who opt-out.
An official bargaining agreement has not been made, and none of those preliminary points have yet to be agreed to by the union and the county.
The International Association of Fire Fighters said in a statement it “strongly encourages all members to get vaccinated.”
According to the organization, 42 of its members have passed away in the line of duty due to COVID-19.
“The IAFF understands and acknowledges that employers can, in some circumstances, mandate their employees be vaccinated against COVID-19. Before imposing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, employers should confer with their IAFF affiliates, including bargaining to the fullest extent permitted by law, over topics including cost, paid time off for employees to become vaccinated or quarantine after a COVID-19 contact, liability for potential adverse consequences of being vaccinated and the process for exemption from the mandate.”