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Chicago Firefighters' Union Says City's COVID Vaccine Mandate Has 28 Firefighters, Paramedics Sitting Out, And It Could Mean Staffing Shortages And Safety Concerns

CHICAGO (CBS) -- There were worries late Thursday that the city's COVID-19 vaccine mandate could be creating safety concerns with the Chicago Fire Department.

As CBS 2's Marie Saavedra reported, there has been a lot of attention on the fight by the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police over the city's vaccine mandate. But the city is facing another lawsuit – brought by firefighters and workers with the Chicago Department of Water Management.

The fight is set to end up in federal court on Friday.

Imagine calling 911, and the fire truck that arrives first doesn't have the capability to save you or your loved one's life. Paramedics tell CBS 2 that is happening, due to staffing issues because of the city's vaccine reporting mandate.

Chicago Fire Fighters Union Local 2 President Jim Tracy confirms 28 firefighters and paramedics are sitting out without pay for not complying with vaccine rules. To keep up with emergency response, the CFD is moving paramedics from fire engines to the ambulances.

What that does is downgrade care available on fire trucks. Engine companies with the highest level of care are certified to provide Advanced Life Support. That means one paramedic is on board, with just about everything on board that you can find in an ambulance.

But because the Fire Department is being forced to backfill, the Union says six companies on Monday and three Wednesday could only provide Basic Life Support, with no paramedic and fewer tools to save a life.

In a statement, the Chicago Fire Department told us that downgrading is "not an uncommon occurrence" and that no fire or ambulance companies have been put out of service or limited service due to personnel issues." But the union disagrees, and so might anyone who has to wait longer for care when the seconds count.

The firefighters' union president said he discussed this issue with Mayor Lori Lightfoot briefly on Friday, stressing something has to change.

He plans to continue those talks Friday at a special City council meeting addressing the vaccine mandate.

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