PHOENIX - A group of Phoenix-area firefighters who lost their jobs after refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 are talking about their dismissal.
The group of firefighters, who used to work for the Salt River Fire Department, say they were let go two weeks ago. They say they were not given the option of daily COVID-19 tests and their medical exemptions were not accepted.
"The last few days for us were just kind of a quiet, somber thing that was coming," said Joseph Kimball.
Kimball says he, along with several of his friends, were terminated from the Salt River Fire Department because they refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
"I have six kids, and my wife is a stay-at-home mom, and so it has been something we've been preparing for," said Kimball. "I think we realized mandates are possible, and we thought the Salt River community and Tribal Council would have more leniency, being that they put a lot in ancestors and faith and God, that they would have a religious exemption, which they did not."
The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community implemented a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for all government employees in August. Kimball said he wanted to file a religious exemption, but was told that only medical exemptions would be made. He and former fire captain Daniel Schuelke say they both filed medical exemptions, both of which were denied. They say they were not given an explanation.
"Back and forth with emails and even meeting in-person. They just said it was a mandate from someone else other than them, and there was no guidance on how to proceed," said Kimball.
"I've been out there for 16 and a half years. Half my life out there. Dedication, time away from family, it was heartbreaking, really. I love serving them," said Schuelke.
Both Kimball and Schuelke say now they are just looking for another path forward.
"I am a man of faith, and my family has faith also that we'll be shown the way," said Kimball.
Full Statement from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community
The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC) is a sovereign nation within the State of Arizona and governed by a Council who has the authority to pass legislation to protect its citizens and lands. In August, the SRPMIC Council made the decision to require COVID-19 vaccinations for all Government employees as a condition of continued service with the Community.
The decision to require COVID-19 vaccination for SRPMIC employees is a way the Council can protect the Community during this pandemic.
On August 20, 2021, SRPMIC employees were notified of the Council decision for a COVID-19 vaccine requirement. On August 30, 2021, the COVID-19 vaccine requirement became effective and SRPMIC government employees had 30 days to comply. There were medical exceptions and those individuals are required to take a COVID-19 test every 7 days.
Those who chose not to comply with the requirement were released from employment on September 30, 2021.
The Salt River Indian Community Tribal Government is projected to be at 97% of its employee vaccination rate. The Salt River Indian Community continues to be seriously impacted by COVID-19 and is still taking the necessary health and safety precautions to protect its Community, its employees, and visitors to its Community.
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