Calgary fire chief concerned about firefighters protesting COVID-19 vaccine: ‘Trust is eroding’

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Calgary fire chief concerned about firefighters protesting COVID-19 vaccine
WATCH: Calgary's fire chief believes a select few members participated in a protest against the City of Calgary's COVID-19 vaccination policy. As Adam MacVicar reports, Chief Steve Dongworth is concerned it has eroded public trust in the fire department. – Sep 10, 2021

Firefighters who participated in a protest against the City of Calgary’s mandatory vaccination policy for employees has the city’s fire chief concerned about public perception of the department.

Chief Steve Dongworth said while it’s difficult to confirm whether members of Calgary’s Fire Department were in attendance at Tuesday’s protest outside of city hall, he believes there were a select few amongst the protesters.

Protest organizers claimed Calgary police officers, firefighters and EMS workers were in attendance, but Global News was unable to verify that claim.

Click to play video: 'The legality of mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations in the workplace'
The legality of mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations in the workplace

“We are an organization made up of decent women and men,” Dongworth told Global News. “These individuals are tarnishing the reputation of our organization and tarnishing the reputation of those people as well as those who’ve gone before us.”

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“We just ask the public to consider that.”

Dongworth noted there would be disciplinary action towards those in attendance at the protest who identified themselves as firefighters as part of the city’s code of off-duty conduct, but couldn’t divulge what form that action might take.

Read more: Unvaccinated Calgary firefighters or police ‘completely unacceptable’: Woolley

Last week, the City of Calgary announced that all city employees must have two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by Nov. 1, with at least their first shot by Sept. 13.

According to a city spokesperson, as of Friday, the mandatory vaccine policy had not been finalized.

Read more: City of Calgary passes new mask bylaw, reinstates state of local emergency

Dongworth acknowledged firefighters against the COVID-19 vaccine are a “small group” within the fire department, and noted it has caused tension in several fire halls across the city.

However, Dongworth said he is concerned the protests will impact the public’s trust of the organization.

“We recognize the fact that we have huge public trust that we’ve built up over the years, and at the moment that trust is eroding.”

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“The public won’t differentiate between the five per cent who are advancing this agenda, and the 95 per cent who are decent women and men who make up our organization. We recognize we’re going to need to rebuild this trust.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta Health Services makes COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all staff'
Alberta Health Services makes COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all staff

Calgary’s mayor, Naheed Nenshi, told Global News feedback from civic employees on the vaccine policy has been overwhelmingly positive, while there are some employees sharing their concerns.  He noted there would be exemptions for those unable to get the vaccine.

“Nobody is getting fired from the city on Sept. 13 because they didn’t get their first dose, that rumour was going around,” Nenshi said while appearing on Global News Morning on Friday.

“Ultimately, we expect public servants to serve the public in the best way they can.”

“Right now, police officers and firefighters have a whole spade of vaccinations to do their job — tetanus, diphtheria, you name it — and COVID is no different.”

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The Calgary Firefighters’ Association, the union that represents local firefighters, wasn’t available for an interview but said in a statement the majority of the fire department is vaccinated.

“We heard that a few of our members may have attended a rally at city hall this week. Approximately 85 per cent of our members are vaccinated,” the union said in a statement. “Vaccinations are an important part of keeping our members, their families and the public safe.”

Read more: City of Calgary passes new mask bylaw, reinstates state of local emergency

Another protest, advertised as ‘Frontline for Freedom’, is scheduled to take place on Sunday in front of city hall, and claims there will be firefighters, police officers, health-care workers and City of Calgary employees in attendance.

Dongworth said he has requested to have the firefighters memorial on the site cordoned off from the protest.

The memorial pays tribute to the 47 Calgary firefighters who have lost their lives while firefighting or due to illness related to their duty as firefighters.

“During the last year, we’ve had to barricade off that memorial when other COVID protests have taken place,” Dongworth said.

“I never thought I would get to the place when I would have to order that memorial to be cordoned off to protect it from Calgary firefighters desecrating it, and that’s what I’ve had to do for Sunday, and that causes me great angst.”

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Read more: COVID-19: Where you must show proof of vaccination in Alberta

Dongworth said he and the department will continue to work to spread education on the COVID-19 vaccine to help encourage more firefighters to get immunized.

–With files from Global News’ Adam Toy 

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