Demings responds to DeSantis challenge over fire battalion chief's termination: 'Bring it on'

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings responded to Gov. Ron DeSantis a day after the governor weighed in on the firing of a former Orange County Fire Rescue battalion chief over vaccine reprimand concerns. 

Stephen Davis lost his job Tuesday after joining the department in 2007.  Davis was terminated in connection to the county’s mandate to discipline firefighters who choose to not get vaccinated, according to his attorney.  The attorney said he refused to reprimand employees who were not vaccinated after finding errors in the list of people to be written up.

Gov. DeSantis on Wednesday called the firing illegal and said his office will make sure it doesn’t happen again.

RELATED: DeSantis sounds off on termination of Orange County Fire Rescue battalion chief

"I think the firing was totally inappropriate. I think it’s ridiculous," DeSantis said.

He added that firefighters have protected their communities since the start of the pandemic and now they are being tossed aside.  

"I don’t think you can put out a fire on Zoom," he quipped.

Davis stood by Gov. DeSantis during a news conference in Clearwater on Thursday and spoke publicly for the first time on the matter.

"I was terminated for what I believe to be an unlawful order," he said. "The men and women that I serve…have spoken to me over the last several months, unable to sleep, worried about what would happen if they didn't get this shot if they were mandated."

DeSantis called for a special legislative session next month to erect roadblocks against COVID-19 vaccination mandates

Mayor Demings initially said county employees could lose their jobs if they don’t get vaccinated but later said firefighters would receive a written reprimand.

Demings said the county had reached an agreement with the International Association of Fire Fighters on what disciplinary action should be taken for those who failed to get vaccinated, which was the written reprimand.  He said he supports the termination of the battalion chief because Davis "chose to be insubordinate."  

"There is an established process for disciplinary appeals and we'll address inaccuracies made by the former firefighter," Demings added. "We will aggressively defend our right to protect our citizens and our employees.  We'll let the courts decide what was lawful or not."

Demings said the governor has created "political theater" during the pandemic.  He said DeSantis and others have politicized the vaccine and are using the firefighter as a pawn.  He called it "sad and ridiculous" that over 58,000 Floridians have died as a result of COVID-19 "and the failed leadership in Tallahassee." 

"So if you ask me what is my response to the governor or anyone else, I say these simple words: bring it on."

Demings said 95% of all county employees have complied with vaccination protocols, including 88% of Fire Rescue staff. 

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