Federal grant approved to restore Portland Fire and Rescue positions

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

The newly funded positions are expected to be filled by
March of 2023. An independent
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.”