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Ted Mayes, Station 22 St Johns, Portland, Oregon

“Firefighters are some of the most selfless public servants you will ever encounter.”

This quote by Denis Leary could not be truer when describing the life and career of Teddy Mayes. Lieutenant Mayes is a Portland Fire and Rescue firefighter stationed in the St. Johns neighborhood. You could not find anyone more enthusiastic about his profession nor more excited about helping other prospective firefighters receive scholarships to pursue firefighting and EMT training.

Lt. Mayes and his colleagues just met and superseded their fundraising goals for the Portland Community College Gus Waterford Scholarship program. If you do not know the history of Gus Waterford, you will be impressed to learn that Augustus “Gus” Waterford was the first Black firefighter to join the Portland Fire Bureau. He was stationed at Engine 6, beginning in 1890. “While all firefighters are known for their bravery, it takes an extra level of courage to be the first person to break down a social barrier,” Mayes referenced.

Lt. Mayes shares the same level of courage as Mr. Waterford. Despite Portland and Fire and Rescue increasing its diversity, hiring more female, African American, and other candidates of color, there is still room to grow. “We have gained much ground since I was first hired, and I am delighted to see it in my lifetime. There was only a half dozen women and seven African American firefighters. Today the Portland Fire and Rescue team consists of more than fifty women and growing, “Lt. Mayes clarified. “The beauty of bringing in diversity, not just of cultural or racial background but a diversity of thought and faith perspective, is that it equips the First Responder teams to have critical people-resources in addressing calls within a community that is increasingly diverse,” added Mayes. “While it is great seeing an increase of African American and other candidates of color, I observe every day first-hand on the job how a firefighter with a culturally diverse perspective, bi-lingual language capability, and varied community engagement adds to the technical training of a firefighter in service as a First Responder,” Mayes stated. “It makes the team better and more capable of serving our Portland community.”

The increase in diversity is partly due to programs like the one that Lt. Mayes helped build to raise critical scholarship funds. The Portland Community College Foundation awards first-generation college students studying Fire Protection Technology at PCC $1,000.00 scholarships. PCC would be hard-pressed to raise those funds without Lt. Mayes’ enthusiasm and without the help of the many firefighters and donors supportive of Gus Waterford’s legacy. The scholarship is awarded to both women and men, focusing on diverse candidates, including those from the LGTBQ community. This year Lt. Mayes raised $8,000, which exceeded his goal of $2,000, and now PCC will be able to provide seven scholarships.

Lt. Mayes was so enthusiastic about his volunteer philanthropy role that he was reluctant to talk about his own accomplishments but encouraging others to excel is one of many attributes of this dedicated firefighter. Lt. Mayes achieved his Bachelor of Science in Sociology at Portland State University and has been with PF&R for twenty-five years. He is the proud father of two grown children. Teddy and his wife live in Portland. For all of you Democrat fans (the mascot that is), Teddy graduated from Jefferson High School in Portland and was a star athlete. He loved sports and thought he would pursue athletics as a career but decided while in college that he wanted to help young people find direction through employment and career opportunities.

Lt. Mayes recollected a story about Portland Fire Chief Sara Boone. The Chief was also an athlete at a competitive Portland High School, and Teddy was inspired by her story in the local Skanner newspaper. “I realized I wanted to do something significant with my life so, like Chief Boone, I could inspire others,” reminisced Mayes. “It’s funny. I must have been destined to be a Firefighter because a few years later, I was attending a workshop at Portland Community College, and Don Lewis, PF&R EMT, and Captain Larry Harper of PF& R walked past me, and I caught their energy.” We both laughed simultaneously because we both understood what Lt. Mayes meant. Mayes is a man of tremendous faith. “You know, Elizabeth, it is like what St. Paul shared in scripture; you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. I want my life to mean something and giving back like those before me is my goal. I want to have that same kind of impact on others, and so every day of my life I talk with children during recess or at the playground, I engage with the community not only in the inner-city but wherever I go, and I illustrate by my behavior that firefighting is a noble and essential service to society,” Mayes clarified.

Lt. Mayes reminded me during his interview that the role of firefighters has changed since the days of Gus Waterford. “We are no longer just fighting fires; we are often the first on the scene to attend to a COVID-19 distress call, we respond compassionately to those who are homeless and need of medical or mental health care, we are called in many dangerous situations including if there is a natural gas leak or any type of natural disaster. So, in some respects the role has become even more dangerous and hazardous as firefighters are exposed to toxic chemicals when putting out fires, so many of us die of service-related injuries or illness,” Mayes observed. Lt. Mayes is a transplant from Santa Barbara, and so he has experienced many earthquakes. “We all need to be prepared, and First Responders have received and continue to receive extensive training to prepare for any and all-natural disasters,” Mayes explained.

Lt. Mayes shared my enthusiasm for the David Campbell Memorial Association and our goal to build a memorial on the East Bank Esplanade. “When you look back at 9/11, despite the event occurring on the other side of our nation, it connected us all. And we were inspired by the courage of the First Responders, many of them who gave of their lives to help others during a tragic time,” Mayes reminisced. “We will now be able to ring the bell in Portland at the Campbell Memorial each year, reciting the names of the fallen firefighters in appreciation to them and to their families for their sacrifice. It is important to remember all those who have served and sacrificed.”

Lt. Mayes reminds us all that we can all contribute in our own way. “Some of us will become firefighters and inspire others to become firefighters. Many more of us can support firefighters by donating to our First Responders’ legacy coming together to support DCMA. This memorial means a great deal to the seven hundred firefighters who put their life on the line every day and will articulate even more to those fallen families. I love to hear the bagpipes play, and the bell rung when we recite the names of those who sacrificed.”

The David Campbell Memorial Association is actively fundraising for construction of the Portland Firefighter Memorial as a lasting tribute to Portland firefighters’ bravery and sacrifice in the line of duty–past, present, and future. Since 1853, seventy-four Portland firefighters have given their lives while protecting the city and its citizens, and dozens more have died of job-related illnesses and diseases. The Portland Firefighter Memorial will be located on the Willamette River’s east bank adjacent to Portland Fire and Rescue Station 21 and across from downtown Portland.

All are welcome to support DCMA by donating directly on Facebook on our newly approved Donate Button or go to the David Campbell Memorial website, or mail a check or money order to DCMA c/o Portland Fire & Rescue 55 SW Ash Street, Portland 97204. The DCMA is a 501c3 Nonprofit organization, and your contribution is tax-deductible, but please check with your tax preparer. For Legacy Donations, Corporate and Foundation donations, please contact Elizabeth Asahi Sato, Chief Development Officer,, (503) 577-8976 cell, (971) 371-3751 fax.


Story credit:  Elizabeth Asahi Sato