NEW YORK (AP) — Six New York City firefighters angry with a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers that took effect Friday were pulled from duty and suspended after driving a fire truck to a state Senator’s office and threatening his staff over the requirement, which the state lawmaker had nothing to do with.
State Senator Zellnor Myrie said firefighters from Ladder 113 in Brooklyn parked a fire truck outside his office Friday morning and confronted one of his staff members about the mandate, suggesting the lawmaker and his staff would have “blood on their hands” because of resulting staffing shortages and longer response times.
The firefighters also pressed the staff member to divulge where Myrie lived, the 34-year-old Democrat told The Associated Press. He said several other members of his staff saw the fire truck with its lights flashing and were anxious there was an emergency nearby.
Myrie said he found the incident “incredibly disturbing, highly inappropriate and not at all” what firefighters should be focused on. He said he was encouraged that the fire department took swift action to pull them from duty. He said his staff was shaken up for hours.
“If you are asking for my personal whereabouts and you follow it with blood being on the government’s hands for a vaccine mandate, any objective observer is going to connect those two and receive them as a threat,” Myrie said. “I believe my staff did receive it as such and I think it’s highly inappropriate.”
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro swiftly condemned the firefighters' actions and suspended them for four weeks without pay.
“This is a highly inappropriate act by on duty members of this Department who should only be concerned with responding to emergencies and helping New Yorkers and not harassing an elected official and his staff,” Nigro said. ”The members in question have been immediately relieved of duty and will face disciplinary action.”
A message seeking comment was left with the firefighters’ union. Myrie praised the fire department for its “swift action” in suspending the firefighters.
The alarming confrontation came as the nation's largest city braced for the possibility of closed firehouses, fewer police and ambulances, mounting trash and other disruptions come Monday as thousands of municipal workers remain unwilling to get the shots.
Police officers, firefighters, garbage collectors and most other city workers faced a 5 p.m. Friday deadline to show proof they’ve gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The mandate is the result of action by the city government, not state lawmakers like Myrie.
Workers who don’t comply will be put on unpaid leave starting Monday.
Nearly one-fifth of city employees covered by the impending mandate have yet to receive at least one vaccine dose as of Thursday, including 29% of firefighters and EMS workers.
The firefighter's actions at Myrie's office were a dramatic escalation of tensions between the city’s unvaccinated rank-and-file and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, which has held firm on the deadline amid protests and a legal challenge.
Hundreds of firefighters rallied Thursday outside the mayor’s official residence, sanitation workers appeared to be skipping garbage pick ups in protest and the city’s largest police union went to an appeals court seeking a halt to the vaccine requirement.
Andrew Ansbro, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, warned in recent days that longer response times will “be a death sentence to some people.”
The fire department said it was prepared to close up to 20% of its fire companies and have 20% fewer ambulances in service while changing schedules, canceling vacations and turning to outside EMS providers to make up for expected staffing shortages.
Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak
Michael R. Sisak, The Associated Press