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Nine firefighters are sacked

Mendiola stands firm on mandatory vaccination

The Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Service issued walking papers yesterday to nine personnel who continue to defy a directive to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Of the initial 23 individuals who signed a petition against the mandatory vaccination, nine were issued termination notices yesterday, effective immediately.

“Unfortunately, the nine refused to take the vaccine so we went ahead and served the termination effective today. We got the Attorney General’s Office to review the adverse action, the Office of Personnel Management too to make sure we’re within the confines of the law, and we served those adverse actions today,” said DFEMS Commissioner Dennis Mendiola.

He said the petition originally started off with 23 individuals refusing to be vaccinated but when the department put them on administrative leave, 14 of the 23 consulted with family members and were advised to be vaccinated.

“This is not the time to lose jobs. It’s a difficult time for the CNMI as a whole. Although it’s unfortunate that this situation is going on, at the end of the day, we’re going to stand firm with our community being safer,” Mendiola said.

That’s a stance that Mendiola reiterated yesterday, saying he stands firm in his decision to mandate vaccination for all DFEMS personnel.

According to him, although there still isn’t a 100% guarantee that the vaccine provides immunity from COVID-19, a small percentage “is better than none” and he stands firm in his decision to mandate vaccination if it gives the department and the community a fighting chance against the epidemic.

“The [firefighters] are saying that even with the vaccine, you may or may not contract COVID but, as I stated, any percentage of not contracting COVID is better than nothing. It’s a solution. At the end of the day, if it gives me a better chance to fight COVID, then I’m going to take this and I stand firm in that,” he said.

In addition, Mendiola believes getting vaccinated is part of the department’s job to keep the community safe. “We’re just trying to do our part to ensure that the community is safe and refusing to take the vaccine, for me, is in violation of the orders at the highest level. We’re ensuring that we do our part by getting vaccinated so we can interact with the community and not worry about being the carrier of that virus,” he said.

When asked about reinstating the terminated firefighters if they decide to be vaccinated later on, Mendiola said he would consider bringing them back as the termination has nothing to do with their work ethic.

“This action is not [against] them personally; this action is a result of them refusing to get vaccinated. It has nothing to do with their work ethic, given some of them have worked for the department 13, 14 years. Some of them are great fire fighters but, again, an order is an order and violating the governor’s directive is the same as violating a judge’s order and, at the end of the day, we’re trained to follow orders. We follow orders and if it saves lives, then why not,” he said.

With the department out of nine firefighters, DFEMS’ remaining 114 personnel are being stretched thin. Mendiola said the department and the administration are working on launching an emergency Fire Academy to fill the positions.

Kimberly B. Esmores | Reporter
Kimberly Albiso Bautista has covered a wide range of news beats, including the community, housing, crime, and more. She now covers sports for the Saipan Tribune. Contact her at kimberly_bautista@saipantribune.com.
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