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October 2022: Updates from Portland Fire & Rescue Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty

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Picture of Commissoiner Hardesty smiling in her City hall office. Next to her is a Portland Fire & Rescue radio and a hard hat labeled "Hardesty."

As we close out another summer that saw extreme heat and dangerous fire conditions locally and throughout Oregon, I want to express my deepest thanks to everyone in Portland Fire & Rescue. I can’t overstate my appreciation for our firefighters, who have stepped up in every way they have been asked to serve with incredible bravery over a difficult last few years – whether putting out fires locally, helping combat wildfires statewide, or vaccinating our community during a global pandemic. 

Our Firefighters have performed this work despite decades of underinvestment, especially in comparison to other first responders. Since becoming Fire Commissioner, I have consistently worked to improve the wellness and working conditions of our employees and have successfully prevented budget cuts and station closures. 

These efforts were recently validated in Willamette Week, where former IAFF Local 43 President Alan Fershwiler confirmed Commissioner Hardesty has been a steadfast champion as Fire Commissioner: “Ferschweiler, the union president before McLennan, agrees Hardesty battled to keep fire staffing levels stable, fought back decreases in the fire budget, and negotiated the latest contract favorable to firefighters. 

“She fought to make sure we didn’t have any budget reductions for our fire stations over the past two budget cycles,” Ferschweiler says. “And she fought to keep our stations open.” 

Today I want to provide Portlanders an update on the latest happenings with Portland Fire & Rescue from this summer to today. 

Portland Fire & Rescue Receives $2.07 million in Federal Funds to Hire New Firefighters, Fully Staff Station 23

Commissioner Hardesty takes a photo with 6 firefighters inside a Portland Fire & Rescue station. Behind them is a fire engine.

Recently we received some big news - our persistent efforts for federal aid to support Portland Fire & Rescue came through! 

Together with Portland Fire & Rescue, City of Portland Office of Government Relations, Senator Jeff Merkley and Senator Ron Wyden, we are bringing home $2.07 million to hire 6 firefighters & fully staff station 23 in SE Portland for the 1st time in over a decade. 

I am incredibly excited that we will be bringing in over $2 million in federal funds to Portland Fire & Rescue. Senator Merkley and Senator Wyden have once again delivered for our city, and they have my thanks for securing dollars that will provide a needed boost to our Fire Bureau.  

Independent Citygate Study & Work Session Provides Data Driven Roadmap to Address Staffing at Portland Fire & Rescue

Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty is seen in a fire station talking to two firefighters, while a fire engine is parked in the background.

We know Portland Fire & Rescue needs a greater investment than their current budget, but during most of my time on City Council I've had to push back against cuts. That's why my office worked with Portland Fire & Rescue to conduct the independent CityGate study and work session. 

The external study was commissioned to assess the bureau’s deployment model, resource allocation, and service delivery model, while providing a roadmap for data informed investments that will strengthen and modernize Portland Fire & Rescue. We have the best firefighters in the country, and they need a budget that matches that. 

Some top-level conclusions and recommendations from the CityGate report include: 

  • Portland Fire & Rescue’s Portland Street Response (PSR) and Community Health Assess and Treat (CHAT) have the “potential to substantially reduce low-acuity 911 calls in the long run” as both programs continue to expand. 

  • Portland Fire & Rescue needs additional administrative and firefighter positions to meet the demands of a growing City and recommends we continue to utilize recent hiring innovations such as retire rehire, lateral firefighter recruitment, and aggressively recruiting new Firefighters. 

I hope this evaluation will help us persuade my colleagues and the public that we need to increase funding to Portland Fire & Rescue for the safety of our community and our employees. 

We will be following the report’s recommendations to continue to grow Portland Street Response and the Community Health and Assessment Team, to aggressively recruit both lateral and new hires to the bureau and continue working with council to ensure that the best fire fighters in the country have a budget that matches their needs and provides the staffing levels a City of Portland’s size requires. 

First Lateral Firefighters Hired, Increased Compensation for Training Provided

Commissioner Hardesty is sitting next to a Portland Fire & Rescue employee who is wearing a green gest inside a command station.

To expedite the filling of current staffing gaps, I worked with Portland Fire & Rescue to develop an innovative strategy of hiring experienced firefighters, often referred to as “Lateral Recruits” into vacant Firefighter positions earlier this year. This was authorized for the first time in the bureau's history by Chief Boone & and myself. 

Our first group of lateral recruits have been hired. Our second and most recent lateral recruitment class closed applications recently. This strategy has the effect of reducing the amount of time required for new employee training and deploys the Lateral Firefighters online approximately 6.5 months sooner than new entry level firefighter recruits.   

After being hired, lateral recruits receive accelerated training and then shadow a Field Training Officer (FTO) in a station for 3 months. I brought forward an ordinance unanimously approved by Council that will allow Portland Fire & Rescue to compensate Field Training Officers with a premium of 6% for the additional workload.  

There are cost savings for Portland taxpayers realized by shortening the training time for lateral recruits, as they can fill shifts earlier than new entry level firefighter recruits, which avoids the need to fill shifts through overtime.  

Portland Fire & Rescue Chief Sara Boone remarked, “I’d like to first acknowledge the sacrifice and service of our firefighters as we have struggled over the past few years to maintain consistent staffing. We appreciate Commissioner Hardesty’s leadership and Council’s support, as well as the strong advocacy of Local 43. This ordinance will expedite our ability to get firefighters on the line and reduce mandatory overtime.”  

Growing Portland Fire & Rescue’s Workforce By Creating Opportunities for Youth

Commissioner Hardesty joins the Portland City Council, Portland Fire & Rescue staff, and a Dalmatian mascot.

In September, we initiated our latest grant opportunity to recruit a new generation of EMTs and Firefighters to Portland Fire & Rescue. If approved, we will be on our way towards a partnership with Portland Community College and Community Based Organizations to offer paid training, education, and employment opportunities for our youth. Our goal is to increase the representation of underrepresented communities in Portland Fire & Rescue by 10% in the next five years. Alongside our firefighters, we continue to expand community health programs at Portland Fire & Rescue, including Portland Street Response (PSR) and the Community Health Access and Treat (CHAT) program, all of which offer exciting employment opportunities. 

Multiple phases of this grant will need to be approved by the state to complete our vision, but I am excited by the potential and happy we are getting this process started. Thank you to everyone at Portland Fire & Rescue for your innovation. 

Mount Tabor Arson Investigation Leads to Arrests

Commissioner Hardesty is standing with Firefighters as they prepare for a press conference.

A string of arson occurring in Portland’s beloved Mt. Tabor Park over the summer came to a close when Portland Fire & Rescue investigators promptly arrested suspects on September 11th of this year.

I’m grateful for the quick investigation and arrests as well as partners Portland Parks and Portland Police Bureau.

For now we are thankful this specific arson spree appears to have come to an end. We will remain diligent in investigating arsonists and holding them accountable.

Portland Fire & Rescue to Soon Unveil First Electric Fire Engine in United States

Screenshot of an MSNBC program showing off what will soon be Portland Fire & Rescue's first electric fire truck

Portland Fire & Rescue was featured on national television over the summer when the CNBC show “Mad Money’ did a special segment on what will soon be one of the first electric fire engines in operation in the United States – right here in Portland!

This technology was created by Pierce Manufacturing, which calls the electric fire engine “Volterra.” 

The Volterra reduces emissions, minimizes fuel consumption, and produces less noise with no compromise on apparatus features, performance, functionality and safety. 

It is similar to current Portland Fire & Rescue fire engines, including the same look and feel that firefighters are accustomed to with standardization of cab layout, water capacities, tool location and water pumping controls. The apparatus size is increased in length by 18” to accommodate the battery bank. 

A fire station-based, all-encompassing vehicle charging infrastructure will provide operational readiness for "Volterra" fire engines.  

We will have additional information once our electric fire engine is ready to roll later this year! 

9/11 Memorial Service

Commissioner Hardesty is pictured from behind reading a list of names of Portland Fire Fighters "who have sacrificed all for the profession and their community."

This September 11th marked 21 years since the 9/11 attacks that forever changed our world. So many firefighters and first responders were lost and injured in the immediate aftermath, and Firefighters are still having to fight to receive compensation for the long term negative health effects they endured in the aftermath.  

It was an honor to join Chief Boone and IAFF President Issaac McLennan this 9/11 to ensure we never forget the sacrifices made in the aftermath of this horrific day in history. 

Joining Chief Boone at the National Black Chiefs Officers Committee Annual Conference

Commissioner Hardesty smiles for a picture with 3 Fire employees.

This summer I joined Portland Fire & Rescue Chief Sara Boone for the Black Chiefs Officers Committee (BCOC) Annual Educational Symposium and Conference in St. Louis. The event was very informative and inspiring.

While we continue to progress forward to ensure inclusivity and accountability at the City of Portland, I am impressed by the work Portland Fire & Rescue has undertaken under Chief Boone to become a national model for innovation and community centered programs within the Bureau.

I am grateful for Chief Boone's visionary leadership in providing opportunities for under represented communities within Portland Fire & Rescue.

Young Women Firefighters Camp

Group shot of Portland Metro Fire Camp for Young Women attendees sitting on a fire engine.

Every year since becoming Fire Commissioner I have made an effort to visit one of my favorite events – Portland Metro Fire Camp for Young Women. It was heartening to spend time with so many inspiring young women ages 16-22 that are learning what a career pursuit with Portland Fire & Rescue looks like. You can learn more at www.portlandmetrofirecamp.com  

Juneteenth Parade with Grand Marshall Chief Sara Boone

Commissioner Hardesty is smiling in the passenger seat of a Fire engine during the Juneteenth Parade as an attendee waves to her

I had an amazing time celebrating Juneteenth this year with Portland Fire & Rescue and your Juneteenth Parade Grand Marshall Chief Sara Boone!   

We celebrate Juneteenth because it commemorates the day - June 19th, 1865 - that Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to take control of the state, freeing those who were still enslaved over 2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed and months after the Civil War came to a formal end. Thanks to all the Portlanders who came out this year to reflect, learn, and celebrate. While we still have so far to go in achieving racial equity, it was a wonderful sign of progress to join Portland’s first Black Fire Chief as the first Black woman ever elected to the Portland City Council.