Portland firefighters responding to high amounts of OD calls

Portland Fire & Rescue says they see an average of 10 or more overdoses in a 24-hour period.
Published: Sep. 27, 2023 at 11:14 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Portland Fire & Rescue Station 1 in downtown Portland is one of the busiest in the city.

“We expect to be somewhere around or north of 12,000 calls this calendar year,” Firefighter Ryan Lougeay said. “This will potentially be the highest number of calls in the history of this station.”

Station 1 is also a station you have to want to be at, according to Josef Kuehnast. He’s been with Portland Fire & Rescue for almost 14 years and has been at Station 1 since 2012.

“All of the men and women I work with have a desire to serve,” Kuehnast said. “We love our jobs, it’s why we are here. Everybody at this station wants to be at this station. You have to go out of your way to apply to be here, to go through the training, to run the calls, to keep up on your training, and be a productive member of this team. Everybody on the job wants to be on the job.”

In recent years though, firefighters we spoke to say the job has changed.

“This organization, Portland Fire & Rescue, is a tool and sometimes it feels like the tool is misapplied for the job,” said Kuehnast. “So what we are being called to do is not necessarily a problem that we can solve and by nature, we are problem solvers. We get called to a problem and we want to solve that problem. When we get called to an incident where it doesn’t feel like there is a solution or even where we were sometimes are just a part of a revolving door, it’s challenging.”

“In terms of firefighting, we’ve always been busy with running a lot of different types of calls with a heavy emphasis on medical calls,” said Lougeay. “Medical calls used to be for slips and falls, trauma, heart attacks or breathing disorders. We now see a heavy amount of calls related to drug overdoses, alcohol abuse, total lack of healthcare, just in general using 911 as a catch all.”

Firefighter Ryan Lougeay has worked for Portland Fire & Rescue since 2010. He’s been at Station 1 since 2012.

“Right now we repeat drug overdoses every day,” said Lougeay. “Down here we can see 10 to 30 fentanyl-related overdoses in a 24 hour period.”

He says not only the calls, but the amount of calls is taking a toll on firefighters.

“It’s making it more and more challenging in terms of the stamina required to get through a shift,” said Lougeay. “We work either 24 or 4-hour shifts and just due to the busyness and the nature of types of calls we’re going on, it’s taking a toll on the energy levels as you progress through your shift. It’s also taking a toll on the folks mental and emotional status as we continue to see more and more people suffering. Both the ones we are caring for and the ones that are observing the types of things that are happening in downtown Portland right now.”

While those we spoke to say what’s currently happening is not sustainable and are wanting change, the one thing that hadn’t changed is their desire to help their community.

“A sense of purpose is the largest thing that’s helped me navigate those 11 years here at this station,” said Kuehnast. “For me, the desire to serve the people in our area is a huge sense of purpose for me. Being a part of an effective team is a huge sense of purpose. I would like people watching this to know that we want to be here and we want to serve in the way that we are trained and passionate to do.”

“I would tell people that the men and women I work with care deeply,” said Lougeay. “We are trained extremely well, we want to do a great job. We love serving our city, but we are becoming frustrated. We’re becoming tired. We would love to see our city return to the former state that it was. We would love to see changes that affect people positively. Both the people living on the street and the people who are coming to downtown to make this city thrive.”