Josh Sattley has spent more than a decade on the Beverly Hills fire department and enjoyed a great relationship with the community and with his bosses — until a month ago when “That whole relationship went sideways,” he says. The reason?
“Our chief said, ‘The mandate’s coming. Our hands are tied. You have to be vaccinated unless you have a religious or medical exemption,’” Sattley recalls. His chief continued, “‘Religious are going to be hard to get. I got off the phone with somebody who said you have to be Dutch Reformed or Christian Science.’”
“‘Don’t even try to submit a religious exemption,’ was the feeling I got,” Sattley says.
The father of four who has been married nearly 18 years says working for Beverly Hills FD was “a complete dream.” The 80-man department prided itself on fast response times — an average of three minutes — and its excellent service.
“The level of care our department has offered the community is bar none,” Sattley told the Conejo Guardian. “It’s directly related to our Christian beliefs. … We treated people as if they were children of God, not just a patient.”
The good feelings changed overnight in July when his captain, apparently under orders from the City of Beverly Hills, gave his firefighters an ultimatum: Take the experimental gene therapy for COVID-19 or be fired. While a number of the guys balked, read up on the law and demanded that the chief get the policies and procedures from the City, including what the punishment would be if they did not comply, the City engaged in a speed round of scare tactics, intimidation and obfuscation.
“We had more questions than answers,” Sattley says. “There were rules made up out of nowhere and an attempt to divide and conquer.”
With an attorney’s help, the resisting firefighters drafted religious and medical exemption letters and submitted them to the City. The religious exemptions were denied, and the City’s attorney created his own version, demanding that the men submit themselves to what Sattley dubs an “interrogation.”
The City finally issued its judgment: six exemptions were denied, 14 were approved for thirty days to be re-evaluated. Five of Sattley’s colleagues were so cowed by the City’s response that they went out that night and found a place to get the first experimental gene therapy shot — out of fear of losing their jobs.
“That night was really tough,” Sattley recalls. “We were with two other families when we got the news. It was devastating. A lot of guys were fearful and didn’t know what to do. I’m a man of God and faithful that if I stand up and do what’s right, I’ll be provided for. I have a set of skills. I’m confident I can do something. I told the others, ‘You guys are young and healthy. You’re men of God. You can learn trades.’”
Sattley soon received an email saying he had been put on leave without pay. None of the normal disciplinary processes were followed. He refers to it as “a time-out” meant to humiliate and frighten him. Days later, the City sent an email offering to fully reinstate him if he reconsidered and took the gene therapy. Sattley’s answer was still no.
Instead, he went public, as other SoCal firefighters did, and within days Sattley’s Instagram posts were seen by thousands as he became one of the faces of the resistance among Los Angeles-area firefighters.
“When we stand up for what we believe in — for what’s right — there is always a chance that we risk the very things we fight for: our safety, our lives, our freedom. But if we stand down, the risk is definite,” he wrote in one post. In another, “I’ve been placed on Leave Without Pay. They have removed my religious liberties and denied me my due process. … They are trying to force me into submission … I WILL NOT GIVE IN!!”
In the meantime, the men whose temporary exemptions were approved “are in purgatory,” Sattley says. They are to be re-evaluated a month later, as if their religious convictions might change. They were removed from any rig that responded to 911 calls and ordered not to respond to advanced life support calls. For a number of days, trucks went out without paramedics.
Sattley says the treatment “feels like I got punched in the gut. It rips my heart out to talk about it because these are good friends of mine, all the men you want in that community. The guys that go above and beyond, guys you don’t want to get rid of. The City is trying to break our will and brush aside our religious liberties. They may as well fire me now.”
Some fellow firefighters who took the experimental gene therapy against their judgment told Sattley they are embarrassed and disappointed in themselves for compromising principle to hold onto pay and retirement and benefits packages.
One colleague told Sattley, “You’re being fired for the same reasons you got hired: integrity.”
“I won’t trade principles for money or security. I just can’t do it,” Sattley says. “I have peace with the outcome. I don’t care what it is. I just want people to know what they’re doing to us. It’s disgusting.”