At least two St. Albert fire chiefs and/or deputy chiefs got their COVID-19 vaccine ahead of firefighters actively working in the field, according to the local union.
Warren Gresik is the president of IAFF Local 2130, which represents 116 people. He said members have come forward with at least two instances of administrative staff jumping the line.
“We had multiple members that witnessed a member of our administration team receiving a COVID-19 vaccination at a centre,” Gresik said.
“We also had members bring concerns forward that they were privy to conversations that an administrative chief acknowledged they had received the vaccine.”
St. Albert has one fire chief and six deputy chiefs. Gresik did not name which chiefs were alleged to have received the shot.
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He said the allegations have left members, some of whom have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, feeling angry and disappointed.
“A lot of our members were turned away at vaccination stations when they were in line to get their shot because of shortages,” he said.
The union has put forward an email request to fire chief Bernd Gretzinger to obtain more information and request an apology.
“We have not received any response and that was 10 days ago,” Gresik said Wednesday.
Requests for comment from the fire chief and deputy chiefs were not returned to Global News by Wednesday evening.
In a statement to Global News, deputy chief administrative officer Kerry Hilts said they are aware of the allegations, but would not confirm any vaccinations due to privacy concerns. Hilts said the city has “communicated to staff our expectation that only eligible staff get the vaccine.”
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Most St. Albert firefighters, including six out of seven chiefs, are also paramedics. That designation makes them eligible to get the vaccine.
On Wednesday, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said public health officials have determined who should get the vaccine and when.
“The allegations that have been made are unfortunate and it’s understandable why many would be upset,” she said.
“Overwhelmingly, the prioritization list has been followed carefully.”
Gresik said there was a “clearly defined process” of who should get the shot and when and that it was not followed.
In an email to Global News, Alberta Health Services spokesperson Kerry Williamson said AHS has provided clear direction to all contracted medical first responders regarding who is eligible.
“It is the responsibility of EMS providers to ensure the lists submitted to AHS were accurate and only included eligible frontline staff,” Williamson said.
“Anyone who is not eligible should not be vaccinated.”
On Jan. 11, paramedics and emergency medical responders were added to Phase 1A of the province’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan.
Phase 1A also includes high-risk groups like seniors and staff in long-term care, designated supportive living, physicians and nurses in ICUs and staff on medical, surgical and COVID-19 units in the province’s hospitals.
Alberta Health Services prioritizing second doses of COVID-19 vaccine
However, as supplies of the Pfizer vaccine have been delayed, the province had to stop offering first doses in order to save second doses for those who already received a first dose — prioritizing long-term care and designated supportive living.
Gresik said the position of chiefs within the organizational structure does not involve providing patient care.
“It’s a very contentious issue. It ties into emotions quite a bit. It doesn’t do anything to bring cohesion to the membership,” Gresik said. “This was not the proper way for this to be handled.”
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