Wearing a Los Angeles Fire Department hat and T-shirt, the firefighter glares into the camera as he launches into a searing criticism of the city's new COVID-19 vaccination requirement.
“I am done being silent on this matter,” said the man, who identifies himself as a Capt. Cristian Granucci, a 31-year veteran of the department. “And so are many of our members.”
It was a rare public outburst by a member of the Fire Department against the vaccination requirement for city employees approved by the City Council.
Granucci accused the fire union of being in “lockstep with total tyranny” and said he and other firefighters have retained an attorney — whom he described as a "shark."
“This isn’t about vaccinated versus unvaccinated,” Granucci said in the video. “This is about freedom of choice.”
“I am so hopping mad right now, you have no idea," he said. "My head could pop."
The City Council voted last week to require city employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by early October, while granting exemptions to employees with medical conditions or “sincerely held religious beliefs." Those employees must be tested regularly.
The L.A. ordinance does not spell out what happens if someone refuses to get vaccinated without an approved exemption or balks at other requirements.
The city’s roughly 3,350 firefighters are on the front lines, working as paramedics and emergency medical technicians, but have been slow to take the vaccine. Only about 50% of the department was vaccinated earlier this summer.
Some officials have said firefighters don’t feel comfortable taking the vaccine. Some firefighters argue that they’ve already been infected, so they don’t feel they need it.
Granucci's video was posted early Monday morning on Telegram and reposted on YouTube by user Kevin Rice.
Granucci confirmed he made the video.
"This is not a political issue. This is a freedom issue," he told The Times.
He said he recorded the video on his cellphone early Monday while at work at Fire Station 108, which serves the Hollywood Hills and other neighborhoods.
By Tuesday afternoon, the YouTube video had garnered more than 62,000 views.
The Los Angeles Fire Department said in a statement that the matter has been submitted to its Professional Standards Division for investigation, which may result in disciplinary action.
“While we respect the individual’s right to his opinion, he is not authorized to speak on behalf of the department,” the statement said. “The individual is in his uniform and appears to be on duty, thereby giving the impression that he is speaking in an official capacity.”
Granucci, 52, said he talked to firefighters and their families who are worried that they are going to lose their jobs if they don’t get vaccinated or agree to testing. He said he doesn’t object to others getting the shot.
Alex Comisar, a spokesman for Mayor Eric Garcetti, said the vaccine requirement is in place “to protect the health and safety of our workforce and the broader public.”
“The mayor hopes that the full FDA approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will help reassure people that these vaccines are safe and effective,” Comisar said, referencing the Food and Drug Administration's full approval of the Pfizer vaccine announced Monday. "And he strongly urges any Angeleno who hasn’t been vaccinated to get the shot right now.”
Freddy Escobar, president of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City Local 112, said that, similar to the vaccination debate taking place nationally, "there is passionate discussion regarding this issue in our fire stations."
"The majority of our firefighters have voluntarily been vaccinated, and more are choosing to do so each week,“ he said.
Escobar said that the union continues to encourage members to get vaccinated, but it does not support any city policies that would make it a condition of employment.
In a newsletter sent late last week to its members, Escobar wrote that UFLAC attorneys continue to examine the legality of the city's vaccination mandate and the union's legal options.
"In an effort to provide full and complete transparency, however, it must be clearly stated that labor attorneys all over the country have examined this issue and there is a near unanimous consensus that states, cities, and counties have the legal right to proceed with mandatory vaccination policies," Escobar wrote.
Granucci, at another point in the YouTube video, accused the government of mixed messaging. “This is going from '[give us] two weeks to flatten the curve' to 'show me your papers,'” Granucci said, making a gesture with his right arm.
Asked whether he was making a Nazi salute and comparing vaccination requirements to Nazi Germany, Granucci suggested The Times was making assumptions and said he wasn’t talking specifically about Nazi Germany.
“I am talking about forced compliance,” he said.
Jeffrey Abrams, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of Los Angeles, said his group was concerned that Granucci was implying that public health requirements are the same as fascist documentation requirements.
“Comparing health measures to Nazism, communism, fascism or any police state, hyperbolically escalates tensions around efforts to fight COVID-19,” Abrams said. “Misplaced and misguided comparisons and analogies do nothing but further divide us and direct the conversation to a place of insensitivity."
Several state employee groups, including Cal Fire Local 2881, which represents about 6,000 state firefighters, have filed official objections to new state vaccination rules, the Sacramento Bee reported.
Other states have also seen demonstrations and objections by firefighters over vaccination requirements.
Health experts say the vaccinations are safe and save lives.
The fire captain — who earned more than $247,400 last year, according to the City Controller's office — acknowledged that he could face blowback from the Fire Department as well as his wife for making the recording. "She's gonna kill me," he said.
Times staff writer Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.