Water supply to lumber yard fire cut by budget

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A water engine arrives to fight a fire at a north Portland lumberyard Wednesday, July 10, 2013. (KONI 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The first firefighters to arrive at a fire at a north Portland lumber yard Wednesday had no water.

The Portland Firefighter’s union cites it as an example of how Portland’s recent budget cuts are impacting public safety.

Before July 1, Portland Fire Station 8 in the Kenton neighborhood would have sent both a ladder truck and an engine to Wednesday’s fire at Trillium Lumber.

Kenton’s four-person engine company, on the rig with water, was cut in the city’s July 1 budget cuts. As such, it was Kenton’s ladder truck — with no water — that was first to arrive at the burning lumber yard.

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First responders to this north Portland lumber yard fire had to wait another 2 minutes for an engine to arrive with water to fight the “heavily involved” blaze. (KOIN 6 News)

KOIN 6 News obtained the emergency communications of Truck 8 as it arrived:

“All companies from command be advised we are a truck company. We have no water source. We’ve gotten around to the back of the building. It is heavily involved.”

Crews had to wait another 2 minutes for the first engine to arrive with water from Jantzen Beach.

“In modern construction,” said Michael Wight with the Portland Firefighters Association, fire doubles in size every minute.”

Before city budget cuts kicked in, Portland firefighters say both a ladder truck and an engine that carries water — along with a total crew of eight people from Station 8 — would have responded together to this north Portland fire.

“This is one of the misfortunes of dealing with a tough budget year,” said Lt. Rich Chatman, speaking for Portland Fire & Rescue.

Now, neither Station 8 in the Kenton neighborhood nor the Parkrose station have an engine truck with water. Instead, they have only a ladder truck and crew of four.

“My concern is public safety,” said Wight, who was on another rig heading to the fire from downtown. “People can get hurt; property can get damaged more.”

There also was an issue with limited access to fire hydrants, unrelated to the most recent budget cuts. Still, firefighters were able to stop it from spreading.

Chatman said the two stations were chosen for cuts because they have the fewest calls. By the end of August, each station is expected to get a quintuple combination pumper, also known as a quint. Proponents say it does the job of a truck and engine, but with four firefighters instead of eight.

The union argues it’s still a safety issue.

“It’s not apparatus that puts fires out or mitigates emergencies,” Wight said. “It is people that do that.”

KOIN 6 News contacted employees at the lumber yard Thursday to get their take on how things went. They had no comment.

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