Fire Station 23 staffing puts ‘public safety in jeopardy’

Multnomah County

Portland Fire and Rescue said it's had to adapt to several budget cuts in recent years

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Some fire stations in Southeast Portland are understaffed and can’t respond safely to many emergency situations, according to the Portland firefighter’s union.

Fire Station 23 in Southeast Portland is one of those stations. It has just two firefighters during any given shift. The station has a fire engine but it can’t be operated by only two people.

Instead, the firefighters at Fire Station 23 respond to emergency calls in an SUV rapid response vehicle which contains a small supply of medical equipment.

Isaac McLennan, the vice president of the Portland Firefighters Association Local 43, said the station has to request help from a neighboring station in the event of a fire.

“As firefighters, when we respond — and we respond in a two-person vehicle with no equipment and not enough staffing to make a difference — that’s just frustrating for us,” McLennan said.

He said this exact situation happened during a fire at a storage facility and firefighters were forced to wait once they arrived at the scene.

“They have no water, no equipment and not enough firefighters to make sure everyone has been saved,” said McLennan.

Three other Portland-area stations — Station 19, Station 31 and Station 11 — also operate with just two firefighters per shift and utilize rapid response vehicles.

Portland Fire and Rescue said it’s had to adapt to several budget cuts over the past 10 to 15 years, forcing it to become more “inventive.”

Fire Chief Sara Boone said in a statement that Station 23 reopened after 9 years in 2017 in order to provide some basic emergency services. This required PF&R to come up with an alternative to the normal four-person fire engine crew.

“Although reopening Station 23 created more coverage, it did not truly meet the resident’s needs,” Boone said. “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.”

McLennan wants Portland residents to go to their city councilors with questions about their safety and how the city’s budget is being spent.

“If it was me and I lived in that area I would be really frustrated,” he said. “Their public safety is in jeopardy they are the ones who are really going to be suffering and I feel like the City of Portland is playing a game of roulette just hoping some major incident doesn’t happen.”

According to McLennan, the city would only need to hire six more firefighters to keep Station 23 staffed with 4 people around the clock.

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