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“The role of a firefighter in today’s society – be it urban, rural, natural environment, volunteer, career, industrial, defense force, aviation, motorsport, or other is one of dedication, commitment, and sacrifice – no matter what country we reside and work in. In the fire service, we fight together against one common enemy – fire – no matter what country we come from, what uniform we wear, or what language we speak.” ~ Lt JJ Edmondson, 1999

The role of firefighters has changed significantly in the past decade. While firefighters still primarily tackle fires, the position has expanded to include responding to domestic violence calls, natural disasters, mental health emergencies, assisting law enforcement professionals, responding to catastrophic emergencies, and emergency medical technicians. You could probably add to this growing list when you called 911 to request assistance from the Fire Department.

During the past four months, our Firefighters have been responding to a new type of fire—the pandemic COVID-19. There are calls concerning emergencies involving people who cannot breathe from COVID-19 to people fearful they have COVID-19 but are too afraid to go to the hospital.

“It’s like having a 500-pound Gorilla on your back,” states veteran firefighter Robert Pittman. “You are never certain until you arrive on the scene just how serious the emergency.” Our firefighters are required to adorn HazMat suits while handling the most stressful of COVID calls, but if you converse with any of our public servants, they will tell you in a heartbeat, “I am proud to be a firefighter and honored to serve.”

Robert Pittman has served as a Firefighter for 21 years in the City of Portland. Mr. Pittman is a Los Angeles native who was stationed at McCord Air force base in Tacoma. He and his wife love the Pacific Northwest, and he recalls vividly the day he received the call to attend the Training Academy. “It was the day I brought my son home, my wife had given birth, and now I had to report for a nine-month training course where I was on 4 days and off 3 and served 24-hour shifts. “Thursday night after academy week, a recruit is required to study a lot of stuff. You must learn not just how to operate a fire hose but what materials are combustible and how quickly. The combustion of wool and flames create cyanide gas.” Commercial products made up of wool, paper, cotton, silk, and plastics may produce hydrogen cyanide when they burn, so firefighting also involves science.

“I encourage young women and men interested in becoming a Firefighter to stay in shape because a healthy fitness level made training easier” “The Airforce prepared me for the rigor of firefighting. I was a combat controller and worked with the SEALS, Special Forces, Marines, and other special teams.” “We firefighters respond to just about everything from knife fights, gunshot wounds, and even citizens who have scratched their big toe into a raging infection.” “Responding to Covid-19 is unpredictable a lot like fires, it is important to understand the nature of the virus and its impact on the community.”

Portland Fire and Rescue is Oregon’s largest fire and emergency services, provider. PF&R delivers emergency response services through 31 fire stations strategically located throughout the City of Portland. The department is responsible for an area of 151 square miles, with a population of over 653,115. Each station is responsible for specific parts of the City, called Fire Management Areas (FMAs), stations support one another to ensure 24-hour emergency operational readiness. There are 650+ firefighters well trained who stand ready to serve our beautiful City of Portland. Support our firefighters by learning about and contributing to the David Campbell Memorial Association.


Story credit:  Elizabeth Asahi Sato