PORTLAND IS A LITTLE too hot to handle.
Just in time for the heat wave, the city auditor's office released a study last week showing the Portland Fire and Rescue squad miss their speedy-arrival goal 15 percent of the time.
I probably wasn't the only person who spent the Fourth of July huddled over a BBQ in the Mt. Tabor War Zone, worried that a burnt veggie burger would be my last meal on Earth as the city's finest drunks lit off explosives nearby with names like "Pyramid of Power" and "Pimp Stick Candle Assortment."
I at least felt safe in the belief that if I were to witness the Deadly Douchebag Explosion of Aught 10, the fire department would be there within five minutes to mop up the Four Loco-scented bodies. Not so!
The audit revealed that though Portland Fire and Rescue aims to arrive at 90 percent of emergencies within five minutes and 20 seconds—which is the national average—they're missing the mark 15 percent of the time. Arriving a couple minutes late to the scene isn't such a big deal when your job is, say, alphabetizing Mayor Sam Adams' indie music collection, but when you're responding to heart attacks and house fires, seconds can make the difference between life and death.
One of the big problems is that only three percent of the fire and rescue's calls are actually for fires. About 68 percent of their runs are for medical emergencies.
"We respond to everything. Diabetics, car wrecks, cardiac events," says 30-year fire department veteran Allen Oswalt. "The number of medical calls climbs every year, with population increase. But the number of fires stays the same." Buildings these days are built stronger against disaster. People aren't.
One of the hidden costs of our broken health care system is that firefighters are now health care providers. With uninsured people getting little preventative care, things like high blood pressure become emergencies like heart attacks.
And a tip of the sun hat to Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who criticized the audit's suggestion that to improve response time, the city should simply rewrite the definition of "emergency." I stumbled across Fritz on a 100-degree day last week at a MAX stop, crouched in her signature salmon-colored suit on the pavement. She spent her commute wait scraping graffiti off a newspaper box with her bare hands. That's a level of productivity that veers into the absurd—but, hey, no complaints as long as she gets to work on time.