On Tuesday, Kimball Cody will be participating in the Arizona Workers Heroes Freedom March at the Arizona Capitol to protest COVID-19 vaccination mandates.
It is not something the recently fired longtime firefighter / paramedic for the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community expected to be involved in, but then again Cody never imagined he would lose his job after 13 years for not complying with a vaccination mandate.
Cody and three other firefighters with Salt River Fire Department were handed their termination notices on Oct. 1. They were stripped of their livelihood by the tribal government not for misconduct or poor performance, but because of an COVID-19 mandate implemented for SRPMIC’s government employees.
Cody undoubtedly saved numerous lives among the estimated 20,000 people he interacted with while working for the SRPMIC which is bounded by Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa and Fountain Hills. That includes dozens of members and residents who contracted COVID-19 infections.
Yet Cody told Arizona Daily Independent he treated those patients without fail, putting his own life at risk in the enclosed ambulance, particularly when little was first known about the virus. And then there are those he helped extricate from vehicle accidents, treat for diabetes or heart emergencies, or fentanyl overdoses.
But none of that matters to Salt River President Martin Harvier, who supports the vaccination or termination policy for employees like Cody but has not implemented a similar mandate for the employees and guests of its Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale.
Nor has Havier and tribal leaders implemented a vaccination mandate for the tribe’s 10,000 members and residents. Instead, Havier is promoting a $200 cash incentive for tribal members -including children- who become vaccinated.
Cody began his firefighter career with the Salt River Fire Department where he also became an EMT. Then 10 years ago he undertook extensive training to become a paramedic.
In August, SRPMIC announced its mandate and Sept. 30 deadline. Cody twice requested -and was twice denied- a medical exemption to the mandate. There was no religious or spiritual exemption offered.
Cody has no issue with those who choose to receive the vaccination for whatever reason, although he was keenly aware of a “divide and conquer” strategy implemented by Salt River FD and tribal leaders once the mandate was announced.
Initially more than one-third of the Salt River FD staff had not reported being vaccinated. As the deadline got nearer, “there was a definite coordinated effort to influence our decisions,” Cody says, including a reminder that employees were slated to receive a 4.5 percent COLA increase.
Going into the last week of September only seven of the 84 employees had not been vaccinated or granted an exemption. On the final day, that number was down to four, including Cody, who says one of his supervisors made a last minute offer to arrange a vaccination before termination letters were distributed.
“I struggled with it for a long time, not just the vaccination mandate but also the masks mandates put into place last year,” Cody explained. “I undertook spiritual reflection, including praying and fasting, so that I might know what I should do. It has been hard, but it is something that I am at peace with.”
However, Cody admits it stung a bit that there was no formal recognition from his Salt River FD superiors on his last day for a job well done the past 13 years.
“I have always tried to treat the people I come into contact with honor, respect, and dignity as they are children of God,” Cody said. “Looking back, I was never treated with any honor once the mandate came out.”
Cody hopes his public safety career is not over, as he misses using his skills to help those in need. He also missed the camaraderie of station life. He is prepared, however, to take any job necessary to provide for his wife and six children.
“Wherever I am led to, I will go,” Cody said, adding he believes the situation is clearly part of God’s plan for his life.
But Cody does not want people relying on his experience when making their decision about the vaccine. Instead, they should engage in “their own personal reflection” to come to their own answer.
“If you are not willing to take a stand when you disagree with something, you need to understand it will not end,” Cody said. “When my children are challenged in the future they will have the memory of this experience and I hope it comforts and strengthens them.”
It is unclear how soon the Salt River Fire Department can replace the four experienced firefighters. In the meantime, supervisors will have to cover those vacant shifts or overtime will need to be paid to ensure coverage.
“Whether someone gets the vaccine and boosters needs to be a personal decision based on their own balancing of risks,” Stone said. “Government vaccine mandates aren’t about science, they’re about politics. And that’s not a valid reason to infringe on anyone’s right to medical autonomy.”