Portland Fire & Rescue is understaffed as the city continues to grow, union says

Published: Jul. 19, 2022 at 7:14 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - As different industries and government agencies battle staffing issues, the president of Portland’s firefighter union said Portland Fire & Rescue is no exception.

Isaac McLennan is the President of the Portland Firefighters Association. He said the first goal is to fully staff Station 23 in southeast Portland. That station only has enough firefighters to work an SUV-style fire vehicle, even with a fully equipped fire engine sitting in the garage.

“This is the only fire station, Station 23 on 12th and Powell that does not have a four-person fire engine in there,” McLennan said. “They only have a two-person rescue vehicle, which is an SUV-type vehicle, doesn’t have a hose, water, and tools.”

McLennan said a two-alarm fire on Southeast Division Street this past Monday is a prime example of the lack of firefighting resources for some taxpaying Portlanders in the southeast part of the city. He said that a two-person crew arrived in their SUV but they had to wait for an engine from another station to arrive to start dousing the fire with water. And every second counts when fighting a fire.

“That’s the problem at this station,” McLennan said. “These neighborhoods all pay the same tax rate in the city of Portland for our ability to have a proper response.”

McLennan said the staffing problems at Station 23 are due to years of budget cuts. He also said all of Portland Fire & Rescue are feeling the pain of those cuts, putting the fire bureau in a very vulnerable state.

“What they have cut is all of the services that supply what we need,” McLennan said. “Our logistics section, our training facilities, our emergency medical facilities are, all of the things that kind of allow us to go and do that work, even the administration has had to endure budget cuts.”

McLennan said there are 169 firefighters on duty each day. If Station 23 was fully staffed, the fire bureau would be fully staffed. But he said the problem is the city keeps growing but the number of firefighters remains the same. He said Portland is now in dire need to hire more firefighters but the city keeps cutting the fire bureau’s budget.

“We’ve had to do it for the last few years, endure mandatory overtime,” McLennan said. “Essentially when they [firefighters] were prepared to go home, they are told, ‘No, you’re not going home.’”

McLennan said the staff is overworked and morale is low. Especially when Portland’s firefighters are on the front lines of every crisis currently facing the city. But he wants Portlanders to know, that their first responders want to be there and be the ones called upon when help is needed.

“We care deeply about people who live here and we live here too,” McLennan said. “So we want a thriving city and we’re happy to continue to do our job. We just need the support in our budget and from the city council to do it.”

FOX 12 reached out to Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty for comment about staffing issues in the fire bureau that she heads.

“In recent budget sessions, I have been an advocate to not decrease the funding from Portland Fire & Rescue,” said Hardesty. “We invested into fully expanding Portland Street Response which will help first responders and Firefighters by shifting some of the calls to Portland Street Response.”

“Like many first response agencies across Oregon, we are operating with a staffing shortage. However, we are able to maintain our daily staffing with mandatory overtime,” she said. “There are currently no plans to cut existing fire station personnel and we are committed to providing the best possible care and service as we look for ways to improve.”