Briefs

Stanley NM fire department ‘effectively dissolved’ after staff terminated for refusing to get vaxxed

By: - March 4, 2022 10:58 am

The Stanley Volunteer Fire District office in Stanley, pictured in November. (Photo by Patrick Lohmann / Source New Mexico)

Four of six responders at the Stanley Volunteer Fire Department in Santa Fe County have resigned or were terminated as of Thursday due to the county’s vaccine requirement, the department’s former fire chief told Source New Mexico.

The Stanley district is the biggest in Santa Fe County, covering 420 square miles in the southeast section of the county. More than 1,000 people live in the town of Stanley. 

State and city officials aren’t mandating vaccines for first responders

Chief Thomas Ulik emailed Source New Mexico on Thursday night to say that the department is “effectively dissolved” because of the terminations and resignations.

“I was hoping to solve issues internally within the department. Unfortunately, that effort has failed,” Ulik said. “The Stanley Fire Department has been effectively dissolved, leaving the citizens residing in Stanley Fire District at greater risk.”

Ulik said two responders, both certified emergency medical technicians, sought medical or religious exemptions with no luck.

UPDATE: Sunday, March 6, at 11 a.m.

In an interview Sunday, Ulik said the department responds to one medical call a week and about a dozen fires or crashes a year. 

Responders from the nearby Edgewood Fire District respond to nearly every call that the Stanley district responds to, Ulik said, but that district is also having a shortage in volunteers for unrelated reasons. So, Ulik predicted, the Stanley volunteers’ departure will increase response times to that area of the county. 

In November, the county announced a vaccine requirement for about 775 employees, requiring them to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 10 or face termination. As of mid-December, 91 of them had not complied, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican

Many of those 91 were seeking medical or religious exemptions, had received one dose of the vaccine, were away on medical leave or missed the deadline of getting records to the county, county spokesperson Carmelina Hart told the newspaper. 

Hart told Source New Mexico Friday morning that she is awaiting word on how the county plans to handle emergencies in the Stanley area for the time-being. 

Leo Dennisson, owner of a well-drilling company in Stanley, said he’s worried about the prospects of a fire season without firefighters. 

“There could be a fire at any moment,” Dennisson said in an interview. “Springtime is coming. People are going to start burning (garbage and weeds).”

Dennisson said residents of the rural county town are pretty evenly divided on the issue of vaccines and vaccine mandates. While he is worried about the fire season, he admires the volunteers for what he said was standing by their principles. 

Public health experts have defended vaccine mandates as a crucial tool in stopping the spread of the deadly virus and a necessary response to vaccine hesitancy.

UPDATE: Friday, March 4, 2022 at 4 p.m.

Hart, a county spokesperson, disagreed that the firings mean the department is “dissolved,” noting that some staff remains and that a new volunteer is finishing training now.

Also, she said, the Edgewood First District will “continue to provide support to calls in the Stanley area.” Santa Fe County also has a regional station in Edgewood staffed with full-time firefighters who respond to Stanley, and they have an ambulance that will take patients as needed.

“So there is no change in response capabilities,” she said. “In addition, there are mutual aid agreements with other counties in the area that assist if any additional response if necessary.”

In addition to the Stanley volunteers, two other county employees are in the “process of termination” due to the vaccine mandate, she said.

CORRECTION

This story has been updated with new information and corrected after getting more details from former Chief Ulik and county spokesperson Carmelina Hart. Two volunteers were terminated last week. Two other responders, including Ulik and his wife, resigned due to the vaccine mandate, he explained. 

The article was updated Sunday, March 5, at 11 a.m. to reflect that information.

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Patrick Lohmann
Patrick Lohmann

Patrick Lohmann has been a reporter since 2007, when he wrote stories for $15 apiece at a now-defunct tabloid in Gallup, his hometown. Since then, he's worked at UNM's Daily Lobo, the Albuquerque Journal and the Syracuse Post-Standard. Along the way, he's won several state and national awards for his reporting, including for an exposé on a cult-like Alcoholics Anonymous group and a feature on an Upstate New York militia member who died of COVID-19. He's thrilled to be back home in New Mexico, where he works to tell stories that resonate and make an impact.

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