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Central Florida chief fired for not forcing firefighter vaccinations

Stephen Davis failed to follow an order to issue disciplinary actions to employees who didn’t comply with a COVID-19 vaccine deadline, officials say.
Nurse Meredith Price gets a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine ready to give at a Cook County Health COVID-19 vaccine site in Des Plaines on May 13, 2021.
Nurse Meredith Price gets a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine ready to give at a Cook County Health COVID-19 vaccine site in Des Plaines on May 13, 2021.
Published Oct. 20

ORLANDO — A Florida battalion chief has been fired for refusing to discipline workers who hadn’t gotten a COVID-19 vaccine in violation of a requirement for county employees.

Orange County Fire Rescue battalion chief Stephen Davis was fired Tuesday for failure to follow a direct order and issue disciplinary actions earlier this month, said Lisa McDonald, a spokeswoman for the fire department in metro Orlando.

But a union representing firefighters told WFTV that Davis didn’t write up the disciplines because the workers on his list were mistakenly identified as unvaccinated or hadn’t gotten their requests for religious exemptions in on time.

“He didn’t do what he was asked to do because he realized some people on the spreadsheet that he received were fully vaccinated and had religious exemptions at the time and he knew it was unlawful and violating state law,” firefighter Jason Wheat told the Orlando television station.

Orange County employees were required to show proof by the end of September that they’d received a shot of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine or the first dose of the double-shot Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. Employees must be fully vaccinated by the end of October unless they request a religious or medical exemption, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Almost four dozen Orange County Fire Rescue employees, including Davis, according to WFTV, have sued the county over its vaccine mandate, calling it “unlawful, unconstitutional and highly invasive.”

When issuing the order, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings initially said county employees who refused to get vaccinated could be terminated, but he later backed down and capped discipline at written reprimands.

Orange County also has been threatened with fines by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration over its employee vaccine mandate, but Demings said the county would fight any efforts by state officials to impose penalties.

Davis had been with the fire department since 2007.

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