PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Portland Fire Bureau is calling it “the save of the year.”
The bureau is praising the quick and “creative” work by firefighters who responded to the scene of a massive building fire downtown.
The first crew of firefighters to arrive immediately went to work to stop flames that were spreading to a home just five feet from Portland’s Old Korean Church.
According to Portland Fire & Rescue, the home was built as a church rectory in 1905. The fire bureau held a press conference at the site Thursday afternoon. KOIN 6 News learned in order to save the home crews ran a hose through an open window by positioning it onto the frame of a futon couch. Once the hose was secure they were able to leave it to drench flames while they worked on the rest of the fire.
Tea-sun Kim, who attended the church growing up said the house was where Sunday school, classes were held, as well as several programs and activities for people of all ages in Portland’s Korean-American community.
“It was in many ways one of the most effective ways social integration was made possible for people who didn’t always feel comfortable with their language and English speaking abilities,” said Kim. “So, I want to thank you so much this house means quite a bit to me, it’s very, very important and what you all did was just absolutely remarkable, so thank you.”
Fire crews were also up against the challenge of making sure the burning building didn’t collapse onto the street car’s high-tension power line.
Firefighter Mateo Martinez-Lopez spoke at the press conference and pointed out that the ability to save the house was in part because Portland fire station 4 was fully staffed. Station 4, located at SW 5th Ave. and SW College St., is about half a mile from the site. KOIN 6 News learned since October there have been days the station hasn’t been staffed at normal levels due to a staffing crisis and the need to reassign firefighters to other stations.
Alex Ryback who was working at engine 4 the night of the fire said the crew was familiar with the Portland Korean Church building due to past fires.
“Luckily engine four was in service that day and we were able to get here quickly from station four. The fire was in this back corner when we arrived so we were able to pull a line quickly and at least protect this house before the rest of the structure started to catch fire,” said Ryback.
Fire investigators said 27-year-old Cameron Storer, who goes by the name Nicolette Fait, confessed to breaking into the church and lighting papers with a cigarette lighter & then walking out and watching the building burn. According to court documents, the suspect told police voices in her head told her to light the church on fire. The suspect faces charges of first and second-degree arson & burglary. She was arraigned in court last week and is still in jail.
Portland Fire investigator, Jason Andersen told KOIN 6 News his team was working multiple arson-related fires last Tuesday.
“We actually had four working arson incidents that night so I called every investigator back into work that night working separate scenes so it would’ve taken us several days or even weeks to really get up to speed on the follow-up done on this,” Andersen said.
Newly elected city commissioner, Rene Gonzales who now oversees the fire bureau also spoke Thursday. KOIN 6 News asked for his take on tackling Portland’s unresolved mental health & addiction crisis that has been the catalyst for countless crimes across the city.
“We are failing to confront adequately both mental illness and addiction and it overpowers our fire department, our police department, and all of our first responders. We’ve got a lot of brave men and women that are facing this every single night in the city of Portland. They’re doing everything we ask them to do, it’s now on the rest of us to lessen the demand of these kind of services day in and day out,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales also said the issue came up on a call he and other city leaders had with state lawmakers Thursday morning.
“It’s not lost on them, the crisis we’re facing, but we’ve got to keep it in focus,” said Gonzales, “the other element is we do real well with compassion in the city of Portland, that’s a core value here what we value here, but I think we do need to start talking about personal responsibility.”