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Tacoma Fire Chief Tory Green wants hugs, healing and everyone 16 and older in Pierce County to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

Tacoma Fire Chief Tory Green is a hugger. 

“I just miss being around people,” he said. “Whether it’s at work or after hours or at a community gathering—I miss the ability to have conversations face-to-face. To have those interactions, to me—that’s the juice of life.”

That’s why Chief Green got vaccinated for COVID-19. He wants to get back out in the community safely. He wants to socialize with his friends and family. He wants everyone in Pierce County to be able to gather and live social lives.

“I think everybody should get vaccinated,” he said. “It’s the best way to make sure we can do everything we can to minimize the spread of COVID and get ourselves back on track.”

Tacoma Fire Chief Tory Green

The healing power of togetherness.

Firefighters, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and law enforcement officers are on the frontlines of this pandemic. They see the toll daily. They are also the first to respond to tragedies like fatal crashes, shootings and house fires.

“What firefighters and police see every day and do every day are things that nobody should have to see and do,” Chief Green said. “Those things don’t go away—it’s the kind of stuff that fuels PTSD and nightmares.”

One way to cope for all first responders is being together. Traditionally, firefighters don’t just work side-by-side but also room together, watch TV together, even cook and eat meals together. Being in the same place helps them respond quickly to emergencies, but it also helps with mental health.

“Firefighters are extremely social,” Green said. “And there’s a reason for that. The way we recover from trauma, the way we heal is by being together. By being social. By being with people who’ve had similar or same experiences. By talking about it and working through it.”

That bond has been tested in the time of COVID.

Chief Tory Green

“That hasn’t been possible for folks,” he said. “In fact, at some of our larger stations right now while we’re in Phase 2 and the limit for indoor gatherings is a maximum of 5, they haven’t been able to be together. That’s a significant component to how they heal.”

More than a year into the pandemic, Green says the inability to gather and socialize safely may be the biggest impact he’s seen to the work and his staff.

“It affects us long-term,” he said. “It affects us immediately. It affects morale—and still you have to put on a mask, put on a gown and respond to the next call.”

That’s where vaccines can help.

“That limitation on gathering is for folks that aren’t vaccinated,” Green said. “So, if everyone gets vaccinated, that limitation won’t be there. This needs to be something people know, trust and realize. That’s how we are going to get back to normalcy—especially in our work.”

Unity for immunity.

Chief Green had concerns about getting vaccinated, but he went ahead and did it—not just for himself but for the community. 

“A large component for me getting vaccinated had to do with my role,” he said. “I wanted to set an example for everyone.”

He understands others have their concerns about the vaccine, and they aren’t public figures. But he knows their decision to get vaccinated is also greater than themselves.

“As a person of color, I had some hesitancy briefly,” he said. “Communities of color have a lot of concerns over the whole vaccination process, especially mass vaccinations.”

“But also, as a person with a medical background, I understand the importance of being a part of it. This is for all of us to get back to where we want to be.”

Getting vaccinated despite concerns is something Green said he’s seeing more and more from people lately and it is a trend of selflessness he hopes continues. 

“I have heard from a number of people, in the Black community specifically, about their hesitancy to get vaccinated,” he said. “But they did it, and their decision to do so was because of the greater good.”

For us to achieve community immunity we need 7 or 8 out of every 10 people to get vaccinated for COVID-19. That means more people in Pierce County who may be on the fence need to follow Chief Green’s lead.

“I don’t think it’s insurmountable,” he said. “I did it, and so should you. I had hesitancy. If you do, you also can overcome it.”

‘Back to some normalcy.’

“When we went to Phase 3, my wife and I went out to dinner,” Green said. “It was one of our favorite restaurants and we got a table outside in a tent—and it just felt really, really good to get back to some normalcy.”

We are all looking forward to returning to where we were before the pandemic. Filling up restaurants and movie theaters again. Getting our businesses back on track. Some may be even pushing to get there a little too quickly, Green said.

“People are trying to get back to it now without getting vaccinated,” he said. “That’s probably why we’re going in the wrong direction with cases.”

It’s important for all of us to keep doing the things that we’ve been doing to stay healthy and limit the spread of COVID-19.

We also must get as many people 16 and older in Pierce County vaccinated for COVID-19.

“It’s been odd,” Green said. “Obviously my role is very public. So being at home, away from the city and running a fire department 24 hours a day that’s in the city is definitely odd.”

But more than the work, it always comes back to relationships and interactions with Chief Green, and the friendly get-togethers we are missing out on.

“I’m looking forward to regaining the social connection to people,” he said. “Like I said, I’m a hugger, so I like being in people’s company. That’s what makes us all tick, grow, learn and remain healthy. That’s what I look forward to most—whenever that might be.”

Sign up for your COVID-19 vaccination appointment today at tpchd.org/vaxtothefuture.

COVID-19 vaccine is always free, whether you have insurance or not. If you need a ride to your appointment, we have a partnership with Around the Sound that can help. Call (253) 858-7088 or visit atstrans.org. Pierce Transit also gives free bus rides to people going to vaccine appointments. Call (253) 581-8000 (press 1, then press 1 again) or visit piercetransit.org.

If you can’t easily leave your home and need help getting the vaccine, we can help with that, too! Call us at (253) 649-1412, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., 7 days a week.