Two St. Albert deputy fire chiefs have been accused of getting a shot that thousands of their frontline colleagues across the province have not: the COVID-19 vaccine.
According to the president of the local firefighters union, members saw a deputy chief in line at a vaccine clinic. IAFF Local 2130's Warren Gresik said the union heard another deputy chief mentioned in conversation that he, too, had received a shot.
In addition to a fire chief and assistant chief who manages medical liaison, St. Albert has five deputy chief positions, three of which are permanent and two of which are temporary positions added during the pandemic. One deputy chief position is currently inactive.
The union isn't naming the chiefs accused, nor did Gresik say when the events apparently happened – only that a letter he sent 10 days ago requesting a conversation with St. Albert's fire chief went unanswered.
"We have members that were in line or queue to get the vaccination and were turned away because of shortages, to only find out that people that were not intended to receive the vaccine got it," Gresik told CTV News Edmonton.
"It's quite concerning."
St. Albert's deputy chief administrative officer Kerry Hilts said the city was aware of the allegation but unable to confirm whether it was true.
CTV News Edmonton only received three responses when it asked all seven chiefs for interviews: Out-of-office notices were received from chief Bernd Gretzinger and deputy chief Chris Varga. Deputy chief Luke Flowers directed CTV News Edmonton to the city's corporate communications manager, who had forwarded a statement from Hilts on Wednesday.
"We believe that only eligible staff should be getting the vaccination and have made that clear to our staff," Hilts said.
On Thursday, Postmedia reported an internal memo announced Gretzinger had been temporarily replaced by deputy chief Scott Wilde for "a couple of weeks," however a statement from the city that afternoon Gretzinger "is still" chief.
An interview request to Mayor Cathy Heron was also denied, with Heron saying council was uninvolved in any staffing issues.
In a Facebook discussion, however, she called it a "very poor decision to get vaccinated" and, "A leader looks out for those in their charge first."
She added the city was investigating.
FIREFIGHTERS ELIGIBLE FOR SHOT IF QUALIFIED PARAMEDIC
Hilts also told CTV News Edmonton the city's position is "to encourage our staff to get the vaccination but only when they are eligible to do so."
"The City is not involved in determining eligibility or in administering the vaccine," he pointed out.
The province announced about three weeks earlier it was opening the vaccine queue to paramedics and emergency medical responders. Firefighters may be eligible if they also work as a paramedic.
According to Hilts, all of St. Albert's chiefs but one of the temporary hires are certified paramedics and "are always at a state of readiness to go into the field and have been called out to the field when necessary."
Alberta's chief medical officer of health said she had heard reports of queue jumping but that it was possible mistakes in the booking process were made.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw explained Wednesday afternoon that eligible frontline workers are contacted by phone or email by Alberta Health Services, which has obtained lists of names from managers.
"That is not a deliberate choice in terms of adding people to the list who were not a part of the criteria, but was a result, again, of trying to reach out to many thousands of people in a very quick way," Hinshaw told reporters.
"Unfortunately, in some cases, those lists were not entirely up to date."
Gresik said his union members, who witness every day some of the pandemic's worst impacts, have "higher expectations" of their leaders.
"I understand their anger and outrage in St. Albert, for sure," the president of the provincial firefighters association, Brad Readman, added.
He called queue jumping selfish.
"A fire chief would know full well that they’re not at risk to COVID-19. They’re not first-line. They’re not responding to calls on an ambulance. They’re not even on a firetruck."
Hinshaw encouraged any workers who believe they've received a notification about the vaccine in error to contact AHS.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson