PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) – The union representing Portland Fire & Rescue firefighters says reduced staffing at one of the city’s 31 fire stations is putting public safety at risk.
According to Isaac McLennan, vice president of the Portland Firefighters Association Local 43, only two on-duty firefighters are currently regularly staffed around-the-clock at Station 23, located on Southeast 13th Place.
Staffing at Portland’s 30 other fire stations is currently on par with firefighters’ training: crews of at least four, McLennan said.
“I feel like the city of Portland is kind of playing roulette with the people that live there,” McLennan said.
Despite a near 12 percent increase in population over the past decade in the Rose City, the total number of on-duty firefighters at any given time also decreased from 169 in 2007 to 165 in 2019.
In addition to a reduced crew, the two firefighters who staff Station 23 also only respond to emergencies in a “RRV,” also known as a “Rapid Response Vehicle.”
“That means they have no hose and no water on that vehicle,” McLennan said. “They have a small complement of medical gear that they can use for minor injuries.”
According to McLennan, Portland Fire & Rescue firefighters are only trained to respond in fire engines.
McLennan said budget cuts ultimately led to the reduced staffing and changes in response vehicles.
Now, he and roughly 700 other firefighters he represents are battling to have six additional firefighters hired specifically to staff Station 23 – two more for each of the three daily shifts.
Without additional hires, McLennan says, the Station 23 crews will continue to arrive at major emergencies – including fires where people may be trapped – with no ability to help because they are improperly equipped and staffed.
“In these situations, they show up and they just aren’t able to do the work that they’re trying to do,” he said.
Following an inquiry from FOX 12, PF&R Fire Chief Sara Boone released the following statement Tuesday:
“Our primary responsibility at Portland Fire & Rescue is to provide the most complete level of life safety protection we can to the residents of Portland. We do so within the budget we are allocated by city hall. Operating within a city budget that has been cut several times over the past 10-15 years means we have to be more inventive and continuously adapt our response model to provide the greatest good for our residents; a population that grows exponentially every year.
After 9 years of closure, Station 23 was reopened in 2017 by the previous administration to reduce risk to the residents of the Brooklyn and surrounding neighborhoods. Prior, the residents had no operating fire station in their neighborhood and relied on stations adjacent to oversee their fire management area. In order to re-open the station without adding additional staff, an alternative to our normal four person fire engine crew was used. This was not ideal but it provided a basic level of coverage for medical calls and other emergencies.
Although reopening Station 23 created more coverage, it did not truly meet the resident’s needs. In hindsight, we recognize that the real issue is that we need a better staffing model. We are working closely with Commissioner Hardesty’s office to identify strategies that will enable us to adequately staff fire station 23 as well as other areas that have suffered from cuts we have taken in the past. Our mission is the safety of our residents and we will work creatively and tirelessly to accomplish it.”
FOX 12 also sought comment on this story from Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who oversees Portland Fire & Rescue. Hardesty’s office said she was on vacation and not available.
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