PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Portland firefighters say their staffing levels are putting public safety at risk and want the city council to pay more for what they say is forced overtime to cover staffing shortages.

The overtime is costing taxpayers almost $20 million per year.

Firefighters point to having some stations with just one firefighter on duty at times — causing other stations to respond to calls outside their area when arrival time is critical for emergencies, particularly in east Portland.

Isaac McLennan of the Portland Firefighter’s Association told KOIN 6 News if “somebody’s involved in a cardiac arrest or their house is on fire, we need to be there within four to five minutes. That can’t happen when you start closing down companies across the city.”

The Portland Firefighter’s Association wants the city to approve double pay for overtime hours as an incentive for firefighters to work on their days off.

“We have firefighters that are working 96-hour shifts. Sleep deprivation, you know, is a real thing and forced working an additional shift after working 96 hours is just not safe,” McLennan said.

The bureau hired more than a dozen firefighters in 2022 but has not kept pace with the city’s population growth. The bureau intends to ask city commissioners to fund 13 more positions.

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who is in charge of the fire bureau, says there could be city-wide cuts coming in the next budget year and is concerned about not being able to recover the costs of double overtime which could lead to cutting jobs.

Similarly, 911 operators also facing staffing shortages have asked for double overtime pay. The city council has agreed to pay until the end of the fiscal year but are evaluating it month to month.

The firefighter’s association now plans to meet with other commissioners about the issue.