ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The Orange County battalion chief who was fired earlier this week for failing to follow a direct order over a COVID-19 vaccine mandate joined Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday, railing against the policy.
Stephen Davis spoke at a news conference in Clearwater, where the governor announced a special session would take place in November to provide protections for workers against vaccine mandates. County officials said Davis was fired over his refusal in early October to issue disciplinary action over vaccine verifications.
While Orange County employees are facing an Oct. 31 deadline to be fully vaccinated, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said firefighters who did not comply would not be fired and would only receive a written reprimand.
Davis said many people were worried over the vaccine mandate and some were told if they did not get vaccinated by a certain date, they would be terminated. When he was given a list of people to whom he should issue written reprimands over the COVID-19 vaccine, Davis said he raised concerns over the list because it did not distinguish whether the people had received the vaccine or had an exemption when he had “personal conversations with several who said they had the vaccination.”
“And yet, I was ordered to give them reprimands. To me, this violated more than just a law, this violated their own civil rights,” he said, adding that he was brought in and relieved of his duty that same evening.
Davis said a friend of his gathered all the information and brought it forward when he was “challenged the very next day.”
“It was that next day that they stopped all the written reprimands. They pulled them all back. They said, ‘Do not issue until we figure this out.’ A week later, I was terminated for exactly what I told him. I tried to warn them,” he said.
In response to Davis’ termination, a fellow firefighter and coworker Jason Wheat shared an email he said Davis sent to all Orange County employees challenging his termination:
“Oct. 5, 2021, I was given paperwork in the afternoon to issue to my personnel which I discovered had many inconsistencies. The list I was given had names on it which I knew from personal conversations had requested a religious exemption.”
DeSantis called the firing “totally inappropriate” during a news conference earlier this week.
“These are people (who) have served our communities and they’re being tossed aside. I mean it is illegal to do it. There’s going to be a response and I think, ultimately, he will prevail. Whatever we can do, we’re going to do,” he said.