Mendiola: We gave them time

Posted on Mar 24 2021

Dennis Mendiola

The idea of being vaccinated was already on the table for all firefighters and other staff of the Department of Fire and Emergency Services since December 2020, according to DFEMS Commissioner Dennis Mendiola.

In an interview with Mendiola yesterday, he said DFEMS was one of the first agencies to have its personnel vaccinated when the vaccines came in December 2020. At the time, Mendiola said, he didn’t mandate the firefighters to get the vaccine, until Gov. Ralph DLG Torres issued the directive last week that made the vaccination mandatory.

Mendiola said he has received both doses of the vaccine and, after his inoculation, he had high hopes that his staff would avail of it too.

“I spoke to these guys a few times and…kind of tried to inspire them to get the vaccine. I took the vaccine to actually [foster] trust in them,” said Mendiola.

He said that DFEMS firefighters initially had until the end of March to get vaccinated, but he issued another directive that they had until last Thursday to get vaccinated. With that timeline, that’s when the 23 firefighters wrote a letter of concern saying that they refuse to get vaccinated, Mendiola said.

In response to the petition, Mendiola said that the firefighters are free to do what they want. “I really can’t speak much on what’s their train of thought…but for me, I think the community is actually pushing us as first responders to get vaccinated. I’m getting more feedback that we should be vaccinated first so that we don’t put the families that we respond to at risk,” said Mendiola.

When asked if the non-vaccinated firefighters could go be reassigned to an office setting to avoid contact with other people, Mendiola said this would hold back their operations since there are only 124 staff at DFEMS, including firefighters and administrative personnel.

“It hampers the department’s capability right now. We’re short on manpower because we’re already covering down at Kanoa Resort, covering down at Marianas Resort, and we still have to do our day-to-day operation here [at DFEMS],” said Mendiola.

As of yesterday, DFEMS has yet to institute any disciplinary action, Mendiola said; he did not elaborate.

Justine Nauta | Correspondent
Justine Nauta is Saipan Tribune's community and health reporter and has covered a wide range of news beats, including the Northern Marianas College and Commonwealth Health Care Corp. She's currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Rehabilitation and Human Services at NMC.
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