Ore. city leaders restore firefighter perk of washing personal vehicles at station
The Portland City Council’s provision is part of a labor deal to increase pay for firefighters forced to work mandatory overtime due to short staffing
By Shane Dixon Kavanaugh
PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland firefighters will again be able to use their fire stations as a personal car wash after the Portland City Council voted unanimously to restore the time-honored tradition Wednesday.
Fire Chief Sara Boone ordered an end to the bureau-permitted practice last year after an investigation by the City Auditor’s Office concluded that it violated city rules, was a waste of public resources and conveyed an unseemly double standard to residents.
A provision to reinstate the perk, however, was included within a larger labor agreement the city reached with the Portland Firefighters Association to increase pay for firefighters forced to work mandatory overtime due to staffing shortages.
“It’s a calming thing to do when coming back and really debriefing from stressful calls,” Isaac McLennan, the head of the firefighters union, told the City Council during Wednesday’s hearing on the ordinance. “This is a longstanding practice that’s been around since water, cars and soap all existed at firehouses.”
Mayor Ted Wheeler fumed over the decision to tack the car wash provision onto the overtime proposal, saying that it sent a tone-deaf message to Portlanders.
“I realize this has been a practice that’s been around a long time, but it made this whole discussion in the eyes of the public almost farcical,” Wheeler said of the perk’s inclusion in the spending package.
“I believe it’s frivolous, I really do,” the mayor continued. “There’s lots of ways I address my own mental health needs. I read. I work out. I take vigorous hikes. It doesn’t have to be washing your car on the job.”
Commissioner Rene Gonzalez, who oversees the fire bureau and has strong ties with the firefighters union and its rank-and-file members, defended firefighters who wash their own vehicles on the city’s dime.
“I appreciate the concerns about optics,” Gonzalez said. “But I do want to remind folks that firefighters are working 24 hours on site. It’s not comparable, in many respects, to what other city workers are put through.”
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City officials estimate the personal car wash perk for firefighters will cost taxpayers about $10,000 a year, documents show.
Under the new agreement, which the City Council approved as an emergency ordinance and will go into effect immediately, firefighters will also receive an additional $100 per mandatory overtime shift they work through the end of June.
Due to severe and ongoing staffing shortages within the bureau, city officials estimate firefighters working overtime will fill 36 vacant shifts a day.