By DON McINTOSH
Portland Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 43, swore in new leadership Jan. 4. Local 43 represents about 600 employees of Portland Fire and Rescue, plus 40 fire fighters at the Port of Portland.
Isaac McLennan, 42, outpolled fellow Local 43 member Jesse Reinholt to win the office of president, after longtime incumbent president Alan Ferschweiler left to work full time as legislative director for the Oregon State Fire Fighters Council.
McLennan works as a hazmat specialist assigned to Portland Fire Station 7 at SE 122nd and Madison. Like other members, he works 24-hour shifts, followed by 48 hours off, totaling 52.5 hours a week. Now he’ll split his time between the fire station and Local 43’s new union hall. Local 43 completed the purchase of a building at 330 S. Curry Street on Dec. 17, and moved from its old location at a former fire station at Southeast 67th north of Foster Road.
McLennan grew up in the largely rural community of Tangent, Oregon, south of Albany, and at age 17 started volunteering at his local fire department. He studied computer science at Oregon State University, but left when the opportunity arose to work full time as a fire fighter in Portland in 2000. He started attending union meetings out of a sense of civic duty, but as time went on became more and more absorbed in the life of the local. He became a district rep (executive board officer), and has served as vice president since 2012.
McLennan says one of the biggest issues he and the local will tackle in the coming years is mandatory staffing, the end result of a hiring freeze. At any given time there are 165 fire fighters on duty in Portland, McLennan said, but that’s the same level as 20 years ago, even though calls for service have risen, along with Portland’s population. The resulting understaffing has contributed to mandatory overtime over 1,300 times in the last two years, according to a union tally—disrupting members’ family life and personal plans.
“You’re ready to go home,” McLennan explains. “Then you receive a phone call saying, ‘Report to Engine 19. You’re going to be working today.’ You were on your way out the door, and now you’re going to work another 24 hours…. It’s a double edged sword for us, because we want all of our engines and trucks fully staffed, but we also don’t want to overwork the people that are already working here.”
Fire fighters are also witnesses to the decline of public order in Portland, whether putting out arson fires during riots in 2020 or tent fires at an exploding number of homeless encampments. McLennan, who lives in Portland’s Roseway neighborhood, is undaunted.
“Our job is to respond to anybody that’s in crisis, whether they live in a tent or a high rise,” McLennan said. “I feel like firefighters are going to be part of the solution, and I’m prepared to do whatever it takes.”
Local 43 members are staffing newly formed units like the Community Health Assess & Treat (CHAT) team, which will respond to 911 medical calls that don’t require hospitalization or a trip to the emergency room. The local also represents about a dozen emergency medical technicians who are assigned to the new Portland Street Response.
“I live here. I vote here. I’m invested in this community,” McLennan said. “As a firefighter, I want this community to thrive.”
- Secretary-treasurer Travis Chipman
- Vice presidents Terry Foster, Rob Garrison, Mariya Fuge, Michael Dunn-Bernstein
- District representatives Jay Fink (District 1); Robert Kapuniai-Ryan (District 2); Brian Dundon (District 3); Aspen Breuer (District 4); Leo Call (District 6); Cameron Homan (40 Hour); David Farrell (Port of Portland Labor); Brandon Yu (Port of Portland Station)
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