Firefighters come in all shapes and sizes. Firefighters are recruited from diverse backgrounds, genders, and cultural backgrounds, Firefighters become firefighters for various reasons, but the one trait firefighters hold in common is courage. Tackling a raging fire, arriving at a brutal car accident, responding to a 911 COVID call, or providing critical guidance during a natural disaster is not for the faint of heart. Firefighters have an innate audacity to face the unknown taming any situation with genuine concern and care for people’s safety and well-being. Some firefighters will tell you they have always been drawn to this service, and other firefighters will share a childhood memory or life event that inspired them to join a fire bureau.
The early memories of Portland Firefighter Lisa Knight were both frightening and reassuring. A single spark from their woodstove ignited her mother’s clothing, but a 911 call brought the Fire Department to the rescue in her childhood home, saving Lisa’s mother. Lisa was just eight years old. Lisa’s mother, who survived, suffered burns over forty percent of her body. The fire was a life-changing event for this young girl who grew up outside of Sandy, Oregon. Lisa was grateful to the Firefighters and Paramedics. “I recall seeing how carefully and thoughtfully the paramedic treated my mom.” “It was that event that shaped my commitment to help people” shared Firefighter Lisa Knight in a recent interview. “It is the toughest and yet most rewarding job I have ever had,” Lisa shared. “You get to help people in our community and some on the worst possible day of their life to bring compassion and genuine care.”
Firefighter Lisa Knight has served Portland citizens since 2002, much of that time on Engine 14 in the NE Concordia/ Alberta area. When you meet and engage with a person like Lisa, it is no surprise that she was named 2019 Portland Firefighter of the Year. Lisa serves as a role model to others through her strong work ethic, unending positivity, generosity, and kindness. Beloved and respected by her peers, Lisa speaks through her actions, with a long history of outstanding firefighting and prolific volunteer work. A natural teacher and mentor, Lisa is one of the founders of the Portland Metro Fire Camp, which offers young women a chance to explore a firefighting career. “I encourage girls to start when they are young to eat right and engage in physical fitness.” “I also encourage young people from diverse backgrounds to stick with their schooling to be able to tackle the rigor of Firefighting and paramedic training.” “Firefighter training involves a little bit of science and a whole lot of utilizing what is memorized during a time of crisis.”
Lisa’s compassion for people and passion for serving does not just reside at the firehouse. Lisa has also been a camp counselor at Muscular Dystrophy Association’s summer camp, a formal mentor for newly hired firefighters at Portland Fire, a Trainer at the academy, and a union representative. Lisa appreciates the camaraderie and support of fellow firefighters. “We all hold each other accountable not only to the Portland Fire Bureau but with its broader mission to the diverse communities of Portland.”
Lisa’s service, like most fire firefighters, has a global impact. Lisa joined other firefighter and medical relief teams following Hurricane Katrina and the earthquakes in Haiti and Nepal. She put up her own time, resources, and sweat when firefighters put out a call across the globe. Lisa responded without hesitation during a critical time of need.
Lisa has proudly served as Portland Fire’s liaison to the Oregon Burn Center for many years. When a fire victim or their family needs something from the fire department, OBC calls Lisa. She has been selected many times to serve as a counselor at the IAFF International Burn Camp in Colorado. Her charisma and sincerity allow her to connect deeply with fire victims, families, and staff in the Burn Camp community, where she is highly respected.
Lisa shared that firefighters’ role has changed significantly in recent years, and duties have increased exponentially. 20-25% of all calls are fire-related, but the rest are generally medically related, and lately, many are COVID -19 pandemic calls for help. Responding firefighters and paramedics must determine if the call is green, yellow, or red. Red requests require these brave first responders to gear up in high tech protective gear. “We kind of look like astronauts in our gear, and it is difficult because we want to be able to reassure people in need, but Portland firefighters take great precautions to protect people and also to protect ourselves, so we do not spread the virus in any way.” When I asked Lisa “are you afraid of contracting COVID?” Lisa responded without hesitation “we have a job, this is my job, this is exactly what I signed up for, this is how I can serve my community best.” Lisa added, “whether it is a raging fire or a patient suffering from the fear of a virus—we show up and do the best we can to help.”
I asked Lisa what she thought of the David Campbell Memorial Association’s plan to build a memorial for fallen firefighters on the East bank Esplanade? Lisa responded enthusiastically, “It would mean a great deal to my colleagues and the many families who have lost a loved one during a fire or a fire-related service incident.” “The memorial will be a great place for Portlanders to gather to acknowledge the contribution of those who served and have died helping others.” Lisa knows well the story of David Campbell, risking his life in 1911 during an out of control fire at the Union Oil building “Chief Campbell reflects the heart of all firefighters,” Lisa shared. “He sacrificed his life, knowing the fire needed to be put out to save others’ lives.”
Lisa encourages all to please donate to the memorial through Facebook for the David Campbell Memorial Association or through the DCMA website https://davidcampbellmemorial.org/.
We are grateful for firefighters like Lisa Knight and Chief David Campbell, who embody the fire service’s best traits and lives a life of character, service, empathy, and courage.
Story credit: Elizabeth Asahi Sato