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Portland Firefighters' Association pushes for extra funding to fully staff Southeast Portland fire station

Station 23 is the only fire house in Portland with just two people on duty at any given time.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A fire destroyed an abandoned building in Southeast Portland on Sunday, and damaged two homes surrounding it. The closest fire station, Fire Station 23, is only about a mile away, but it's understaffed. 

It's the only one in the city with just two people on duty at any given time. 

Alan Ferschweiler is the president of the Portland Firefighters' Association, the union representing the city's firefighters. He said if Fire Station 23 was fully staffed with four people instead of two when it responded to the fire, there is a chance the building at Southeast 28th Avenue and Powell Boulevard would still be standing.

RELATED: Overnight fire at abandoned building declared total loss, Portland Fire & Rescue says

The station, near Southeast Powell Boulevard and Milwaukie, has no fire engines or trucks, but instead the two firefighters on duty use a vehicle that "looks like an ambulance," according to Ferschweiler.

"If that engine was there instead of a two person company, they can put water on the fire before it continues to build and gets big," Ferschweiler said.

Fire Station 23 closed in July 2010 because of budget cuts. It then reopened in November 2017, following a year when the neighborhood grew rapidly and there were 1,333 incidents in the area. When it reopened, it was equipped with a two-person crew and rescue vehicle, but were able to pull extra staff on some days.  

In July of 2019, the union said the new city budget made this two-person crew permanent at Station 23. Portland Fire can send backup units to help the two person team, but depending on what is going on, it could take several minutes for them to arrive.

The union is now advocating for additional staffing at Station 23. It's asking the city to give some of its millions of dollars in extra tax revenue to Portland Fire & Rescue and the station.  

"Since we have two people, there we'd just need two more firefighters everyday to bring it up to a fully staffed engine company," Ferschweiler said. "It's a reasonable ask in my opinion."

It is a reasonable ask according to neighbors, as well. They, too, want a full service fire department.

"I can't trust the fire station can help me," Audrey Bryce said. "That's kind of disappointing."

Vivi Bremen, who also lives in the area said, "Hearing they don't have an engine is insane. How are they supposed to operate?"

KGW reached out to Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty's office as the commissioner is in charge of the fire bureau. She said the bureau is not eligible for the extra tax revenue, which is typically set aside for things that require one time funding. Commissioner Hardesty said she is open to working with the bureau during the regular budget process.

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