What’s next for vaccine resisters as mandate support grows?

I can’t presume to know what’s in the heart of this vaccine resister, but each preventable firefighter, paramedic and cop COVID-19 death is heartbreaking to me


Several years ago, I was part of a hastily assembled crew of ED techs, X-ray techs and other staff asked to respond to a violent patient in the hospital’s behavioral health unit. On our short elevator ride, we devised a plan to approach and restrain the patient.  

I was standing closest to the door and was the first person to step off the elevator and into the hallway. A single patient stood in the hallway, about 10 feet away, with his fist balled up and a menacing look on his face.  

I tried to relax, thinking to myself, “We’ve got strength in numbers.”  

I glanced right and saw no one. I glanced left and saw no one. The rest of the crew was standing in the elevator waiting to see what would happen next. As Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”  

New plan: My approach and posture changed from intimidating and threatening to calm and inquisitive. Instead of telling the patient that we were about to restrain him against his will, I asked him if we could talk in his room. The fight went out of him, he turned, and we walked back to his room. My colleagues never got off the elevator.  

The FDA has approved the Pfizer vaccine. Many cities are instituting vaccine mandates, and public safety agencies are now urging members to get vaccinated.
The FDA has approved the Pfizer vaccine. Many cities are instituting vaccine mandates, and public safety agencies are now urging members to get vaccinated. (Photo/Getty)

Viral video 

Video has emerged of Los Angeles Fire Department Captain Cristian Granucci arguing against the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all city employees, including firefighters. His plan, informed by the lessons we’ve all learned from reality TV, social networks and smartphones, is to announce a battle against his city’s vaccine mandate. Granucci is certainly aggressive and confrontational in the self-recorded video, angrily pointing into the camera as he makes his case. That may be who he is naturally or perhaps he is putting on a show for the camera. I can’t presume to know what’s in his heart. 

Alone in a room at the fire station, Granucci’s claim that he represents a majority of the department and firefighters everywhere reminds me of standing just outside the elevator. Everyone was with me until they weren’t.   

I have some general ideas but no predictions about what comes next for Granucci. The tide is against him. The FDA has approved the Pfizer vaccine. Many cities are instituting vaccine mandates. The IAFF has recommended that its members get vaccinated, and the IAFC has called “upon all fire chiefs to advocate for the mandatory vaccination of all of their fire and EMS department personnel against the COVID-19 virus by an FDA approved COVID-19 vaccine.” The National Association of EMS Physicians and many other physician organizations have called for vaccine mandates as well.  

Because we know vaccination and PPE use is, in fact, saving lives, I worry about Granucci and his fire service colleagues who are protesting a vaccine mandate. Consumed by anger, despondence and fear is a tragic way to end a 31-year career as a community servant. Granucci acknowledges in the video that his wife is going to be disappointed, and he might be throwing away his career before he is ready to leave. It seems unlikely that Granucci would like my empathy or sympathy, but I am sad for him and his family.  

COVID deaths accumulate 

Each COVID death of a paramedic/EMT, firefighter or police officer is heartbreaking.  

In the last few weeks, we are receiving word of at least one death per day. Some departments, large and small, have experienced multiple firefighter or police officer deaths. Many departments are experiencing their first LODD in decades.  

Each COVID death of a firefighter leaves behind loved ones. I read the obituaries to humanize the deceased as a sibling, spouse, child, parent or grandparent. Dead firefighters leave behind grieving spouses, children and grandchildren. I can’t help but imagine 15 or 20 years from now each of those children asking something like, “Dad could have been here for my [graduation, wedding, to see his grandchildren, you get the idea] if he had been vaccinated?” 

While the family grieves for the loss of a loved one to COVID-19, the deceased’s fire department also grieves the loss of a friend, colleague and mentor. I don’t think we’ve begun to appreciate the loss of accumulated professional knowledge, on-the-job experience and unrealized future impact from more than 200 fire and EMS COVID-19 deaths.  

Firefighters who die from COVID don’t get to experience the culmination of a career of service with retirement recognitions, parties and mementos. Instead, they gasp their last breaths alone with a few hospital staff and, if they are lucky enough, a family member at their bedside.  

Once they are gone, while family, friends and colleagues mourn, it seems like many fire departments move forward without the usual pomp and circumstances assigned to most LODDs. Very soon, if not already, the lawyers, regulators and insurance companies will be asking if COVID death after refusing vaccination should be recognized as an LODD. Families expecting the bleak comfort of LODD recognition may lose out on the benefits typically granted for those who died to serve others.  

Consequences matter 

It is unlikely Captain Granucci will be persuaded by my encouragement to protect himself from COVID-19 with PPE and vaccination. Granucci is welcome to use the social capital assigned to his rank and experience however he chooses.  

I suspect there will be consequences to his on-duty vaccine refusal video. I genuinely hope for the sake of the captain and his family that the only consequences are job-related, not health-related. 

And if he looks to his left and right and sees that he is in a fight much different than the one he describes in the video, there are a lot of other options for him to change course to a life-saving and life-sustaining plan. 

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