By DON McINTOSH
We told you so? That’s the reaction members of Portland Firefighters Association Local 43 had to a new report about fire bureau staffing levels and service delivery. Portland Fire & Rescue hired Citygate Associates of Folsom, California, to conduct the study, and the consultants presented their findings to Portland City Council Aug. 30. They found that the City is short six fire stations if it wants to meet the bureau’s official goal of 4-minute response time in all parts of the city. Their 186-page report recommends that the City of Portland restore an engine at Station 23, add a fire station in Southeast Portland, and add 35 full time positions—in Fire Bureau headquarters, actually.
That echoes what Local 43 leaders have been telling city officials and fire commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty: Portland fire fighters are feeling exhausted by chronic mandatory overtime, in part because the bureau closed its training center in 2018 and cut training staff and therefore can’t fill vacant positions quickly enough. Citygate recommends that the bureau hire more trainers.
“This is not new information to us,” said Isaac McLennan, President Portland Firefighters Association Local 43 in a press statement following the report.
“We can all see the city of Portland has been exploding in population for the last 10 years and continuing to grow, yet no new firefighters have been added,” McLennan said. “In fact we fight to keep current positions from budget cuts and no new fire stations have been added especially in underserved communities.”
Citygate found that some outer eastside neighborhoods were among the worst for response times. The firm did find at least one encouraging sign: The bureau is trying out a new unit to respond to medical calls, which make up 55% of total incidents at Portland Fire & Rescue. If the unit is expanded, it could prove more cost effective, and take pressure off fire crews.