Essay Project 2021: The Portland Fire Department
By Ashley Bower
“Only the Brave'' is a movie that explains the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots and what they had to go through as firefighters. Throughout their careers as firefighters, these men went through much sacrifice to protect families, individuals, and property. Being a firefighter is not easy, and it comes with a lot of responsibilities. Firefighters have to be brave, strong and determined in order to provide the best service to people. All of these can be seen in this movie, but it can also be seen in the lives of many firefighters, including the Portland Firefighters. The Portland Fire Department has had a large impact on Portland, and they are a very important part of the community.
On June 12, 1876 a group of men came together to form the first fire department in Portland. This group consisted of 28 men, and they were put in charge of naming the fire department and deciding on the uniforms they were going to wear. They decided on “Wabanah” as the name for their fire department. “The uniform would consist of “a red shirt cut sailor fashion, with a black velvet flowing collar and wide cuffs of black velvet”. Pants and shoes would be black. Caps were more of a problem and it was sometime later that the group finally decided on a leather helmet cap (blue) with three seams and a badge of red and blue leather and word “Wabanah” and this device in white. The device was a numeral “1” and a hook and a ladder.” (Portland Centennial Book) The men of the “Wabanah” were the first firefighters of Portland and they were just like any firefighters, strong and dedicated.
The “Wabanah” Fire Department not only fought fires, they were also very involved in the community and took part in several events that took place in Portland. “Beside their firefighting activities the Company appeared at parades and public ceremonies in their splendid uniforms, traveled to other towns to compete with other fire companies in exercises and invited them to Portland, [engaged] in social activities as a group, and gave entertainment such as plays minstrel shows, concerts and dances at the pavilion on the island.” (Portland Centennial Book) Even though this fire department existed long ago, they were very involved in the community just like the Portland Fire Department is today. After 20 years of serving the community, the “Wabanah” company could no longer function and they had to break apart. In 1896, another fire department was created and was controlled by the Village of Portland.
In 2013, the Portland Area Fire Authority was created and they were no longer part of the City of Portland. As Chief Firefighter Tim Krizov states, “Up until 2013, the department was operated by the city. In 2013, an authority was formed between the city, Portland Twp and Danby Twp, now the Portland Area Fire Authority.” The Portland Area Fire Authority is unique in that its firefighters are not medical first responders. Another unique and great quality about the Portland Area Fire Authority is that it has 7 female firefighters.
These men and women not only provide services like fighting fires, they also are very involved in the community. As Chief Krizov mentions, “Our department participates in many events including parades, community days, holiday festivals and trunk or treat at the school. We also have fire prevention week in October, where we visit schools and talk about fire prevention and have an open house at the fire station.” The men and women on the fire department are very involved in the community and have had a large lasting effect on our town.
The Portland Fire Department has fought many fires in the past. Some of these fires have included the Opera House Fire and the Ally Grace Fire. The Opera House Fire that took place in the 1900’s was located downtown on Kent St. This fire is known as one of the largest fires in the downtown area of Portland. One of the most difficult fires was the Ally Grace Fire. This fire took place in December 2010. “I was walking around in the house that had no smoke or fire, only fire we found was a fire in a chimney, but with rain/wind turning to snow/cold, it turned from a routine call into a 7 hour fire that leveled the house,” said Chief Krizov. This fire had started in the chimney, but eventually made its way throughout the entire house, leaving very little left.
Another memorable event the Portland Fire Department had to deal with was the Portland Ice Jam in 2019. This was one of the craziest events they had to deal with because they had to evacuate homes, help people who were trapped, and set up the plans for what they were going to do about water levels. This was one event that was unexpected, and they spent countless hours serving those in need and helping out the community.
The Portland Fire Department is very important to the town of Portland and they have been ever since the beginning. They not only take on fires and other emergencies, but they are very involved in the community and put on several events each year. The Portland community and the surrounding areas consider themselves fortunate to have such brave and dedicated men and women there to serve them in times of disaster.
Patch image courtesy of Chief Tim Krizov.
This essay is part of a writing project by students in Chandra Polasek’s ELA class at Portland High School. The project asked students to focus on elements of their own town while getting students engaged with the community. The essays were written with the intention of being published in The Portland Beacon.