PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The Portland City Council unanimously voted to accept $2.1 million in federal grant money at Wednesday’s meeting to fund the hiring of six additional Portland Fire and Rescue firefighters for the next three years.
The added firefighters, Portland Fire and Rescue Deputy Chief Ryan Gillespie told the council, will staff the two positions that were previously cut from the budget during the 2019-2020 fiscal year. The lost positions required PFR firefighters to work mandatory overtime — overtime that is currently costing the city approximately $20 million per year. These working conditions prompted the local firefighters union to file an unfair labor practice complaint against the city.
The complaint was ultimately settled and the city agreed to apply for the FEMA Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response or “SAFER” grant in order to fill two missing engine crew positions at Station 23 in Southeast Portland.
“The six positions that will be funded through the SAFER Grant will allow us to fully staff Station 23 with a four-person engine company on all three shifts, thus implementing one of the essential deployment recommendations,” Gillespie said.
The city was rejected for the FEMA grant when it applied for the first time in 2020 but was successfully chosen to receive the funds on its second try in October of 2022. PFR Chief Sara Boone told commissioners the grant approval was made possible through added support from local lawmakers.
“Senator [Ron] Wyden and [Senator Jeff] Merkley were advocates for PFR in receiving this grant and we were successful this time around,” Boone said.
PFR Management Services Director Kezia Wanner said the funding will help address the department’s staffing needs which are a result of the city’s already-strapped general fund.
“It will improve the bureau’s ability to respond to fire, medical and all hazard emergencies, which will increase rates of survivability in cases of fire and medical emergencies,” Kezia said. “And it will decrease the severity of property damage in cases of fire and will ensure that the public has appropriate emergency services available, when needed.”
The newly funded positions are expected to be filled by March of 2023. An independent study conducted by the government consulting firm Citygate Associates in May of 2022 found that the City of Portland would need to create 16 full-time positions and add an additional fire station in Southeast Portland in order to adequately serve the city’s needs.
“We are already in a [critical] deficit when it comes to our staffing,” Boone said “That’s why we went out for the grant. We are not meeting our performance standards to date.”