‘Shared’ outer East Portland fire station reopens, is dedicated

Not many fire-and-rescue stations are actively shared by crews from two different cities. Find out why newly-rebuilt Station 31 – once shut down, until neighbors demanded it be reopened – is now considered to be a “model of cooperation” …

Fire Bureau staff and neighbors gather in front of about-to-be-rededicated Fire Station 31 – operated by both Portland and Gresham crews – located in the Centennial neighborhood, at 1927 SE 174th Avenue.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Folks living within the Centennial Community Association (CCA) and in the surrounding outer East Portland neighborhoods were stunned when, back in 1997, the City of Portland shut down Station 31, the only fire station serving their area.

Long-time resident, and CCA Vice President and Safety Committee chair, Ron Clemenson pointed this out, during the dedication of this newly-rebuilt and fully modern fire station on the sunny and windy morning of October 22. “Through the efforts of our community association, and outer East Portland neighbors, we got it reopened a year after it was closed, in 1998.”

Long time Centennial Community Association resident, and volunteer public safety activist Ron Clemenson, tells of their battles to keep the station open over the years.

Pointing out that the station was closed for about a year so the $2.1 million, 6,938 square foot, two-story station fire station behind him could be constructed, Clemenson continued, “We’re so glad that when the crews came back this time, they came back to a great place out of which to operate. We’re glad that they are here to serve the community, and they do a terrific job.”

Clemenson concluded, “On behalf of the Centennial Community Association, I’ll say what they tell homeowners on the ‘Extreme Home Makeover’ TV show: ‘Welcome home, Station 31, welcome home!’.”

Portland Fire & Rescue Fire Chief John Klum thanks outer East Portland neighbors for their unwavering support for over 50 years.

Portland Fire & Rescue’s Chief John Klum told the folks attending the fire station’s grand re-opening that Station 31 was the second-to-last project for seismic and ADA quarters upgrades, under the bond passed in 1998.

“The significance of this station,” Klum said, “is that this really highlights the partnership that the Portland and Gresham jurisdictions have, working together to give citizens the best service possible. This is a model that is being replicated all over the United States.”

Klum added, “I thank area citizens, and especially those from the Centennial neighborhood. It took the active involvement of neighborhood citizens – really grassroots-oriented – to step up to advocate for keeping services. You make a real difference, and make my job as Fire Chief much easier. I thank you very much.”

Their staff looks forward to years of cooperation, says Gresham Fire and Emergency Services Fire Chief Scott Lewis.

“The men and women who will serve out of the station are dedicated to serving their community,” orated Gresham Fire Chief Scott Lewis. “They follow in the footsteps of firefighters who have served here over the many, many years.”

Lewis added, “I find it amazing that little over 10 years ago, this fire station was closed.  It took pressure from the neighborhoods of both Gresham and Portland, for the ‘city fathers’ to say, ‘it’s time to open it back up’. It’s really a dedication to the neighborhood to bring this fire station back up to serve the community. We look forward to serving for many years to come.”

PF&R Division Chief of Emergency Response John Nohr points out energy-saving features in the newly-constructed firehouse.

Pointing out that the original Station 31 was constructed in 1958, PF&R Division Chief of Emergency Response John Nohr commended the old building, torn down to make way for the new fire station. “It served quite well for 50 years, but the services we proved have changed, as has the call volume. Back then, they likely responded to just a few hundred fires a year.”

The fire service no longer fights just fires noted Nohr. “We also respond to medical emergencies, hazardous material releases, and multiples of other incidents in our response area. Engine 31 was our busiest single engine company in 2009-2010, running 3,388 calls for service in this area.”

PF&R Lt. Stewart White shows visitors Hunter and Emma Muhr this vintage fire truck.

Shifting political boundaries made operating the station a challenge, because they didn’t match the fire districts, Nohr added.

“Fire and medical emergencies do not recognize political boundaries. Seconds count in an emergency. A fire will double every minute; someone who’s not breathing will suffer cardiac or brain death in four to six minutes without intervention. Station 31 is well-sited and well-positioned to serve both cities.”

With a snip of the scissors on his handy Leatherman Tool, Portland Fire’s Chief Klum cuts the ceremonial “Danger” tape being held by Gresham Fire’s Chief Lewis, officially dedicating Station 31.

Staffing Station 31 has been shared by PF&R and Gresham Fire and Emergency Services (GFES) since 2003, Nohr stated.

After the ceremony, firefighters told us that both Portland and Gresham fire agencies have three, rotating 24-hour shifts: “A, B, and C”. In the case of Station 31, the “B” shift is staffed by Gresham Fire and Emergency Services personnel.

Yes, the station does have a brass ‘fire pole’ connecting the second and first story. “It’s the fastest way to respond to a call,” says Gresham Fire’s Captain Mike Traeger.

“This arrangement works very well,” said Captain Mike Traeger with Gresham Fire. “Both of our departments train on many different kinds of equipment. It’s a smooth transition from shift to shift.”

Throughout this ceremonial day, visitors were greeted, given tours, and got answers to their questions about the new facility – and the unique partnership that binds two city fire bureaus.

Project artist Linda Haworth of Haworth Studios shows a sample of the “tile art” that will soon adorn Station 31.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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