Darrell White, current president of the Maine Fire Chiefs' Association, is shown in this 2009 photograph. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

The Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association has called on Gov. Janet Mills to revoke the vaccination mandate for health care workers, stating that it could lead to staff shortages among emergency medical service providers.

The group believes that the vaccine mandate announced on Aug. 4 — which would require all health care staff to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1 — has left “only a few weeks for EMS providers to make life changing decisions about their health, beliefs, and the future of their careers in EMS,” according to a letter posted to its website on Thursday.

Darrell White, the president of the association, noted that 172 out of the 273 EMS providers in Maine are based out of fire departments, and that many of those fire and EMS responders provide volunteer services.

“A vaccination mandate is expected to result in more providers leaving the field of EMS,” White wrote. He also added that if personnel leave EMS agencies, the remaining staff would be shouldering extra EMS, fire suppression and rescue duties.

“The timeline [of the vaccine mandate] does not allow EMS agencies to plan and prepare for the impacts to their agencies,” White wrote.

Maine has struggled to recruit volunteer firefighters over the past years, and some towns have turned to regional arrangements to ensure that communities are provided potentially life-saving services. Other areas have struggled to keep EMS staff and have turned to partnerships with companies that provide EMS services, as well as training paramedics in emergency care, to bridge the gap in emergency responses.

The fallout of the vaccine mandate has been felt throughout Maine, with two Washington County EMS providers calling on the governor to revoke the requirement and hundreds gathering in Augusta on Tuesday to voice their opposition to the stipulation.

White ended the letter by saying that the MFCA strongly encourages all of its employees to get vaccinated, and to continue to follow guidance on proper use of personal protective equipment.

Leela Stockley

Leela Stockley is an alumna of the University of Maine. She was raised in northern Maine, and loves her cat Wesley and staying active in the Maine outdoors.