Florida Fire Chief Fired for Refusing to Discipline Unvaccinated Workers, Despite Mandate

A Florida fire chief was terminated Tuesday for reportedly failing to discipline firefighters who refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the Associated Press reported.

Stephen Davis was the battalion chief for Orange County Fire Rescue, where firefighters are subject to a vaccine requirement for county employees.

Lisa McDonald, a spokeswoman for the fire department, said Davis was fired after failing to heed a direct order to take disciplinary action against workers earlier in the month, according to the AP. A statement from Orange County Fire Rescue, obtained by Orlando TV station WESH, said that Davis was hired in April 2007 and promoted to battalion chief in 2018.

Employees of Orange County were told to show proof of at least partial vaccination by the end of September, the AP reported. The requirement could be fulfilled by receiving the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine or an initial dose of the two-shot Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.

All Orange County employees, barring those who requested and were permitted a religious or medical exemption, were required to be fully vaccinated by the end of October, the Orlando Sentinel reported. The Orange County Fire Rescue statement said that Davis' "insubordination" was the result of "refusal to issue disciplinary action on October 5, 2021," which would have been days after the initial September deadline.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

COVID Vaccinations in Florida
A Florida fire chief was fired for reportedly failing to discipline firefighters who refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19, despite a county mandate. Above, a health care worker administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a young woman during an August 5 vaccination event hosted by the Miami Heat at the FTX Arena. Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

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.

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

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

J&J Vaccine Vial
A vial of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at the Louisville Metro Health and Wellness headquarters in Kentucky on March 4. Jon Cherry/Getty Images