PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A Rhode Island judge on Tuesday dismissed a legal challenge by firefighters to block a state requirement for health care workers to get a coronavirus vaccine by Oct. 1 or risk losing their licenses.

The Rhode Island Association of Firefighters argued that the state Department of Health's mandate violated state law that requires the negotiation of terms and conditions of employment, and violated the firefighters’ collective bargaining rights, The Providence Journal reported.

They sought an injunction barring enforcement of the rule.

The health care worker vaccine mandate applies to emergency medical technicians, and most firefighters are EMTs licensed through the health department.

“In short, the court does not believe this regulation imposes a new working condition,” Judge Melissa Darigan wrote in her decision.

Joseph Andriole, president of the firefighters' group, called the judge's decision disappointing.

The group, which represents about 1,500 firefighters in 31 departments, has no opposition to the state's vaccination effort and considers vaccines essential to beating back the pandemic, he said. More than 90% of members are already fully vaccinated, he said.

But he worries already understaffed departments will be under so much additional strain if 10% of their firefighters lose their licenses that it will affect public safety in other ways.

“We're concerned about having enough bodies to perform our vital function," he said.

He hopes that Gov. Daniel McKee steps in so some sort of compromise can be reached.

“I believe that there has to be a better pathway,” he said.

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PANDEMIC RELIEF GRANTS

The Rhode Island Foundation has awarded another $450,000 in grants to several more nonprofits that are helping state residents cope with and recover from the coronavirus pandemic, officials said Tuesday.

“Even when the state began gradually reopening as more and more Rhode Islanders answered the call to get vaccinated, we went on raising money and making grants to benefit Rhode Islanders hit hard by the crisis,” foundation President and CEO Neil Steinberg said in a statement. “We will continue working with engaged and generous donors across Rhode Island and determined nonprofit partners as our state moves from crisis relief to long-term recovery.”

Centro de Innovacion Mujer Latina, Rhode Island Rescue Ministries and The Samaritans of Rhode Island are among the organizations that benefited from the latest round of grants.

Centro received $30,000 to provide community mental health services and other assistance to the Spanish-speaking community.

Rescue Ministries received $20,000 to purchase cold storage and non-perishable food containers for its homeless shelter, food pantry and soup kitchen.

Samaritans received $20,000 to improve the responsiveness of its digital suicide prevention services.

The foundation has now awarded more than $21 million in pandemic relief since March 2020.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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