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Campbell was a force behind the modernization of Portland’s fire department. Well respected by his men and the public alike, his funeral procession drew over 150,000 mourners into downtown Portland in 1911.

History of David Campbell

David Campbell was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1864. He came to Portland in 1878 and shortly afterward became a member of the volunteer fire department, serving in Columbian Engine Company No. 3, Protection Engine Company #4, and Couch Engine Company #6. In 1883 when Portland became a paid fire department, Campbell was too young to be hired.  He would become a member of the paid department in 1885 and serve with Hose Company #2 and Engine Company #1.  In three years, he had enough time in to earn his exemption certificate. In 1892, Campbell became Foreman of Engine Com­pany #1. In 1895, Campbell was appointed Fire Chief by Mayor Frank, and after serving fifteen months he was replaced by order of Mayor Pennoyer. He was again installed as chief by Mayor Mason in 1898, a position he filled until his untimely and tragic death.

1905 - Chief David Campbell and his driver in front of the central fire station at SW 4th and Morrison

1905 - Chief David Campbell and his driver in front of the central fire station at SW 4th and Morrison


A Progressive Leader

Chief Campbell spent nearly thirty years of his life as a fireman in the City of Portland; fourteen of those years were spent as department chief. In 1903, when a new city charter went into effect with civil service provisions, Campbell set about the task of re-organizing the half-pay department into a full-pay department. His ability as a leader was shown by the rapid success he attained in training his men and acquiring cutting-edge equipment for the department.

By 1906, Portland’s first fireboat was operating with efforts underway to add more. Cisterns and hydrants were being upgraded annually. The alarm system was upgraded so that all circuits terminated at city hall central station and the city could route alarms through a private telephone system.

Campbell quickly came to be recognized as the leading fire chief of the Pacific Coast and among the foremost in the nation; he was unanimously elected by his peers as president of the Pacific Coast Fire Chiefs’ Association in 1906. In 1909, Campbell bought the first motorized fire department vehicle, a staff car. As fire horses Jerry, Roachy and Colonel would find out, this was only the beginning.  His advocacy led to the Fire Department’s transition from horse-drawn apparatus to motorized fire apparatus.  While he would not live to see it, the transition was complete by April of 1920.