Lents neighbors get update from Portland Fire & Rescue Captain

Learn the amazing number of ‘runs’ that the crews staffing Lents Station 11 have been on, so far – just this year. Also find out what else is hindering their response times ...

Portland Fire & Rescue Captain Chris Starling begins his presentation at the July Lents Neighborhood Livability Association.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Even though it was a lovely summer evening, some 20 people came to meeting of the Lents Neighborhood Livability Association (LNLA) on Thursday evening, July 14.

Their featured speaker was Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) Captain Chris Starling, who works out of Lents Station #11 in Lents Town Center.

The good news from Captain Starling: PF&R was given a budget increase, for the first time in about a decade. “Fortunately, Rescue 11, the two-person rig, is not on the table for being cut; so it will continue to operate along with Engine 11.”

In the first half of this year, Engine Company 11 has been dispatched on thousands of runs, Captain Starling says.

Startling statics
January through July 14, 2022, Engine 11 went on 2,373 runs – making it the second busiest Portland responder unit; following Mill Park Station 7’s Engine Company – which went on 2,464 runs during that same time.

Rescue 11 takes “low acuity” calls; not active fire calls, and only calls that are “not quite life-threatening”, as Starling put it. While many of the dispatches are for medical emergencies, some of the calls are regarding a smoke alarm being triggered. But, a great many of the 1,231 runs to which Rescue 11 has been dispatched are the accidental triggering of ‘emergency response pendants’ – or else the owner pressing the button “to see if it works”.

“But, due to staffing issues, your Lents Neighborhood Rescue 11 unit has been unavailable for service, about 30 times this year,” Starling said. “In that case the four-person Engine 11 is sent. The negative result is that if there is a ‘high-acuity need’, like your house being on fire, there could be a longer response time, because apparatus and crew to fight your fire will have to be sent from a station farther away.”

The good news, he went on, is that the increased budget means that, over time, 33 additional firefighters will be coming online.

-3 Narrowed lanes from “street improvements”, and speed bumps, slow traffic – and also also hinder PF&R apparatus from making a timely arrival, Captain Starling explains.

Street ‘improvements’ slow response times
Asked about what affects response times, Starling commented, “When you start ‘choking down’ streets, it affects our response times. When they take out a lane and turn it into a giant bike lane or parking strip, it also takes traffic access away for fire apparatus.

“And, with a big push for mass transit – well, these are big vehicles, and we have to share the road with them,” Starling continued. “Also, they’re putting in more speed bumps. Everything that reduces the flow of traffic slows us down, too.”

Another problem is staff fatigue, the PF&R Captain added. “I worked about six days in a row myself, and I ran 72 calls during that time; and 24 of those were during the overnight portion of the 24-hour shift. Doing this day after day really affects one’s ability to do the job.”

Dealing with the discourteous
“Quite frankly, the entitlement of a lot of people that we serve means that we’re treated with disrespect; we have many people, whom we’re trying to help, feel free to talk to us in ‘colorful’ language.

“When a person is rude, and disrespectful, will do our best to deal with it,” Starling said. “But, when a person is threatening – our firefighter paramedics have no choice; we have to back off, and call for police support.”

Captain Starling says that as many as half of their calls each day are regarding issues faced by the homeless.

Mental health issues abound
“Over the past five years, mental health issues have increased dramatically,” Starling continued. “The [mental health issue] call volume for this area is going up higher and faster than almost all 31 other areas because of the socioeconomic makeup of Lents.”

Many of these calls are regarding the un-housed. “We’ve had double-digit service calls serving the homeless. It should be no surprise that many of these are in the Springwater Trail, and areas like that. As many as 40% to 50% of our calls, per day, are dealing with homelessness and homeless people,” reported Starling.

PSR and CHAT continue
Turning to Portland Street Response (PSR), the service that started out of Lents Station 11, [CLICK HERE to read about it], Starling said that this program, and the CHAT, are handling hundreds of calls for people who are in a difficult situation and need help with getting services.

Several at the meeting said they were not aware of “CHAT”, so Starling explained that this acronym stands for “Community Health and Assessment Team” – a different group that is dispatched, similarly to the PSR program, but on acuity calls.

To see a video of the meeting on YouTube: CLICK HERE. It also contains a presentation by Keith Wilson, CEO of Titan Freight and Board Member of Shelter Now, concerning options to end homelessness on the streets of Portland.

Learn more about the LNLA by visiting their official website: CLICK HERE.

© 2022 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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