A calendar hanging in a fire station in East Portland featured photos of homeless camps around the city and now the city’s fire chief and fire commissioner have admonished firefighters for its insensitivity and disrespect.
Fire Chief Sara Boone said the action undermines the Fire Bureau’s integrity and that she expects firefighters to not only adhere to city, state and federal laws but act with professionalism.
“To be clear, it is the expectation of this administration that all employees who work at Portland Fire & Rescue will conduct themselves in a manner that does not undermine the efficiency of our operations, the good of the order, and the integrity of our service to the public,” Boone said Monday in a letter sent to all firefighters. “This integrity is undermined when we fail to show respect to those we serve, regardless of their circumstance.’’
Fire officials haven’t identified the firefighter who made the calendar. It surfaced at Portland Fire Station No. 7, one of the city’s busiest stations in the Mill Park neighborhood at 1500 S.E. 122nd Ave., and firefighters from other stations apparently expressed interest in having one of their own, according to Fire Bureau members. Twenty-four firefighters are assigned to Station 7.
City Commissioner JoAnn Hardesty called the actions a “great community harm” that needs to be rectified and said she’s disappointed that a member of the Fire Bureau would create a calendar that’s “disparaging the houseless community.”
“I know in my heart that this calendar is not in alignment with the great people I know all of you to be,” Hardesty wrote in a memo to all firefighters Tuesday. Hardesty oversees the Fire Bureau in her role as city commissioner.
“I support Chief Boone and her management team completely in ensuring that something like this does not happen in the future,’’ Hardesty wrote. “This is simply not a culture we can allow to be permitted in any way, shape, or form.’’
Hardesty noted that she lives in East Portland. “It breaks my heart to see my own neighborhood shown in this manner by the very people we depend on to save us when something wrong happens,’’ she said in the memo.
The bureau’s professional standards deputy chief is investigating to learn who made the calendar.
Fire Lt. Rich Chatman, a bureau spokesman, declined to discuss the inquiry. “Because it’s an active investigation, we can’t comment on it at this time,’’ he said.
Alan Ferschweiler, president of the Portland Fire Fighters Association, said the calendar, while insensitive, highlights greater problems that aren’t getting enough attention from city leaders: “the friction between firefighters and the houseless population’’ and an “overstressed work force.’’
Firefighters, he said, usually are sent to deal with low-level medical calls at homeless camps or to put out fires at the camps. Because Portland police aren’t responding as often to these calls, firefighters often feel unsafe or face aggression from people who are abusing drugs or alcohol, Ferschweiler said.
“Those negative interactions have a resounding effect on our members,’’ he said. “Police have responded less and less and less to those calls with us. That’s part of the situation too. I feel there’s calls where I wish the cops were here.’’
The calendar is a way of using “dark humor’’ as a coping mechanism, Ferschweiler said, even if it’s “not the best way.’’
“Let’s have some talk about the problem we’re having,’’ he said.
A stranger’s stabbing Saturday night of an off-duty fire lieutenant who was at a Portland bar celebrating his wedding anniversary further highlights the problem, the union president said.
A 30-year-old man with a history of threatening strangers with knives was arrested Tuesday night, accused of assault and unlawful use of a weapon in the attack against Lt. Paul Komanecky at Kingston’s Sports Bar & Grill at 2021 S.W. Morrison St.
“We want to have a better solution to the problem,” Ferschweiler said. “We want people like Paul to be able to come downtown, have a good time with his wife and be able to go home safely.’’