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Warrenton firefighters have a change of heart over vaccine mandate

Volunteer firefighters in Warrenton have had a change of heart. A month ago, city officials feared that most of them would resign rather than be forced to get vaccinated. Today the situation is very different. KMUN’s Jacob Lewin reports:

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The city of Warrenton has 20 volunteer firefighters, three paid staff, and one of the largest land areas of any municipality in Oregon. Many of those volunteers were unhappy about the vaccine mandate and

Mayor Henry Balensifer thought he might end up with a total of three firefighters:

“If this were to come to pass it would probably be one of the gravest things I’ve ever had to deal with as a mayor. Having only three people qualified to provide nitroglycerine or any kind of invasive lifesaving procedure, that’s scary.”

Even two of the vaccinated volunteers were ready to walk off in solidarity. Fire Chief Brian Alsbury told each of the volunteers that if they had doubts about the vaccine, let’s talk. He aimed to knock down misinformation with information and that helped:

“Our volunteers have put a lot of their feelings aside, and personal beliefs, and now we are 99% compliant with the state mandate and you know that one percent is possibly one person that still has not given me a commitment.” 

Meanwhile Mayor Balensifer did a Facebook Live event that he thinks helped turn the tide:

“I thought it was very important not to talk down or shame our volunteers because they’ve been on our front lines as our heroes since the start.” 

Balensifer notes that with volunteers, city’s don’t have the economic leverage that employers do, but the team effort worked. Instead of losing most of his volunteers he and Chief Alsbury added four new ones for a net gain of three:

“I feel blessed. The City of Warrenton was blessed. I think the publicity really helped us.”

Blessed and very relieved. For KMUN Radio, I’m Jacob Lewin.