“We are not fundraisers; we are firefighters,” shared retired firefighter Paul Corah during a recent interview. “We will run into a burning building in a heartbeat, never hesitate during a natural disaster or even this pandemic, but we just do not know how to ask for money.” These genuine and straightforward words reverberated in my heart when I had the recent honor of interviewing Paul Corah about his firefighting career and involvement with the David Campbell Memorial Association. Mr. Corah worked for Portland Fire and Rescue for thirty-two years. During the last decade of that service, he often volunteered to raise money for those in need, gather toys for the annual Toy and Joy drive, and passed the firefighter boot for Muscular Dystrophy. Paul was asked by then Fire chief Ken Owens to serve on the David Campbell Memorial Board when it was awarded a 501C3.
“I recall when we went to the Fred Meyer Memorial and even to Portland General Electric to ask for funds, it felt awkward.” Despite maneuvering through the complicated corporate ask and foundation application process, Paul Corah and other firefighters were too busy answering fire calls, rescue calls, and emergency calls on behalf of Portland’s citizens rather than raising money no matter how noble the cause. “We did not know what to do when it came to fundraising, so I’m glad to hear you will take the ball and run with it,” shared Paul Corah chuckling but serious. Both the Meyer Memorial Trust and PGE asked us to first raise funds to jump-start the campaign, and they would match our efforts, but we never wrapped around with those guys for the matching funds.” “It was helpful when Commissioner Nick Fish was involved, but there are few politicians that will step forward to help with something like this; maybe you can ask them?” added Corah, ribbing me. “I grew up being a firefighter; it’s in my blood,” said Corah. His uncle was Captain Alan Corah, and he lived right next door to a Battalion chief.
“This is important to me because our firefighters’ report for duty each and every day ready to run into a burning building or maneuver heavy equipment when a natural disaster or horrible auto accident requires significant strength and speed.” “Chief David Campbell was a firefighter first and foremost, and he sacrificed his own safety to ensure the Union Oil fire did not spread out of control. He borrowed the fire turnout coat of a colleague, and even with two coats on, he perished fighting that fire,” Corah shared.
“Most of the DCMA trustees are firefighters or former firefighters. Still, we were fortunate to have recruited Terry Shanley, who knows a lot of movers and shakers and understands the construction industry,” shared Paul Corah. “I know people will give if you ask. In fact, I asked a lumber company, roof company, brick masons, and a sheet metal company to help us restore the old fire bell that was located at the 19th and burnside location, and they all stepped up,” cited Corah. “I never asked them to donate money cause that’s harder to do.” Added Paul Corah. “Firefighters will never hesitate to risk their lives going into a fire to save people,” insisted Corah. “It is a dangerous, stressful, and often thankless job. Still, I hope the citizens of Portland will not forget us.”
The David Campbell Memorial Association Trustees are currently raising money to complete the difficult task that Paul Corah and others started. “The rank and file donated nearly $125,000.00 through payroll deduction to jump-start this fundraising campaign, so they are invested in seeing the memorial being built,” shared Lt. Sean Fogarty, a colleague of Paul Corah and a Trustee on the Board of Directors. 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. The original memorial was constructed in 1928 as a tribute to the life and accomplishments of Fire Chief David Campbell, who perished on June 26, 1911, Union Oil Fire in SE Portland. Yearly, Portland firefighters, first responders, city officials, and the Portlanders gather on the anniversary of his death to commemorate the firefighters who sacrificed their lives during their firefighting duties.
“We really do not want to delay any longer. We want to break ground in June 2021 and hopefully open in 2022 or sooner.” Lt Fogarty added. “Each year during these ceremonies, firefighters are also recognized and given awards for outstanding service to PF&B and to the city of Portland.”
I shared with Paul how my own involvement was serendipitous. My brother Richard Warner had forwarded a story about our Uncle Gregory Warner, one of the Fallen Firefighters. While living in California, I paid a visit to my mom in Portland. I happened to go to the local WinCo for groceries. I bumped into a group of firefighters from the local firehouse and inquired how the fundraising was going? They were all very polite yet concerned. The firefighters explained that many of them contributed as much as possible, but they were unsure of the status. I gave them my contact info, and two days later, Lt. Sean Fogarty called me. We agreed to meet at a local northeast Portland coffee house (pre-COVID-19), and lo and behold, former Mayor Sam Adams was enjoying coffee with a colleague. I had not seen Sam in seven years as I had moved to Central Oregon. Mayor Adams came to our table and inquired about our meeting. Mayor Adams recalled the Fallen Firefighter project and stated, “If anyone can help you raise the money, Elizabeth can!” Now I must live up to Sam’s boast, and I cannot think of a better thing to do than honor my Father’s brother. Even with my experience, it has not been easy; I find it challenging to connect with donors, corporations, and foundations during this very unusual time of a Pandemic and our nation’s economic downturn.
“I’d rather go, help people than ask people for something.” “I am happy with what we were able to accomplish, what we did despite only working on it part-time and only when we had a spare moment, but now, we need someone like you to raise the rest for us,” Paul stated. I understand Paul Corah’s apprehension, but I have never hesitated to ask for contributions in my career, especially when it involves an important or noble cause. Firefighters do not just fight fires; they also breathe life into our community. Paul Corah also served as a Public Information Officer for the PF&R as if he did not have plenty to do, but he really enjoyed fighting and serving alongside his colleagues. I have met many notable and famous people in my career and each and every time, I enjoy the presence of firefighters. “You will not find a better bunch of women and men committed to their calling,” shared Corah. I wholeheartedly agree.
Our Portland Firefighters serve on and off duty, retired or active like Mr. Corah, who is also a CASA volunteer, acting as an advocate for children in the foster system. Mr. Corah, a graduate of Roosevelt High School in Portland, loves Portland and still lives here with his wife and three adult children, a nurse, an architect, and an insurance provider.
Most firefighters I have had the honor and privilege of interviewing are like Mr. Corah, very straightforward, humble, and with a big heart of Gold. Bragging does not come with the badge. Paul Corah never once mentioned he was named “Firefighter of the Year” by Portland Fire and Rescue during our interview. After interviewing him, I would say that is an honor appropriately bestowed on this incredible human being and public servant.
I am asking any and all people who appreciate firefighters and first responders to please contribute to the David Campbell Memorial Association fundraising campaign right now, before the close of 2020.
Let’s kick this horrific year right in the behind. Firefighters are currently responding to Covid calls, and I cannot think of a more appropriate way to honor their service than to reclaim 2020 as the year the Portland community reached the goal of raising enough money to build the Fallen Firefighter Memorial.
Please feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about the memorial or your contribution. The David Campbell Memorial Association is a 501C3 Nonprofit organization; therefore, all gifts and donations are tax-deductible. You can also send a check or money order (preferred method so we can say thank you) to David Campbell Memorial Association c/o Portland Fire & Rescue 55 SW Ash Portland, Oregon 97024. DCMA has a “donate now” button on the DCMA Facebook page. 100% of your credit card or debit card donation on Facebook will be remitted to the Nonprofit, thanks to Facebook for its selfless donation opportunity. You can also contribute with a credit or debit card at the DCMA website through the Donately platform. Your generous contribution will be much appreciated and always responsibly stewarded.
Story credit: Elizabeth Asahi Sato