Historic Portland firefighting museum reopens
A historic Portland firefighting museum has reopened in downtown after nine years.
The Jeff Morris and Neil Heesacker Fire Museum holds a collection of early Portland firefighting equipment, with one piece — a Jeffers Sidestroke Handpump Fire Engine — dating back to 1859. A hand-pulled hose cart is only a year newer. Also notable is a 1918 American LaFrance Engine that's still driveable.
"Everything in the museum was originally bought by the Portland fire department, with the exception of the 1907 Robinson hose wagon, which was bought by the Seattle fire department but has been repainted in Portland colors. It's one of only four still believed to be in existence on the West Coast," says Al Carocci, who has restored several of the pieces. He retired as a Portland firefighter in 1996 after 30 years of service.
The museum originally opened in a building adjacent to Fire Station 1 at 55 S.W. Ash Street on May 13, 1985. Funds were raised by a high-power Friends of Jeff Morris committee that included such figures as former Oregonian managing editor Al McCready, former radio and TV sportscaster Ed Whelan, and Gerry Frank, a great-grandson of a Meier & Frank founder.
When it opened, the museum was dedicated to Morris, the first Portland firefighter to go into schools to educate students about fire prevention and safety. Heesacker's name was added to honor the 37-year veteran who died in 2016. He served as public information officer for nearly three decades and was known as "the voice of Portland Fire & Rescue."
All of the equipment was moved into storage when Fire Station 1 was renovated in 2009. But when the work was finished, the city leased the museum building to Saturday Market instead of moving the equipment back in.
After the city decided against renewing that lease, David Short, another retired Portland firefighter, noticed the building was vacant about a year ago.
"I called Al and said, the museum building is empty. We need to get on this," says Short, who retired as deputy chief in 1993 after working his way up through the ranks over 26 years.
The museum reopened to the public last Saturday. The day before, Portland Fire & Rescue previewed the museum for reporters and gave demonstrations of current firefighting and rescue techniques. They contrasted that with the equipment in the museum, much of which had to be pulled by hand and horses to blazes in the city. Firefighters did not originally respond to medical calls, which now make up the majority of their work.
Visiting hours for the museum should be announced later this month. The equipment can be seen through the museum's large glass doors and windows. Another historic piece, a restored 1911 horse-drawn steam pump — is on display at the other end of the station along Northwest Naito Parkway.
Groups interested in tours can contact the public information office for Portland Fire & Rescue at 503-823-3902.
Another bureau museum, the Historic Belmont Firehouse Learning Center, is located at 900 S.E. 35th Ave.
Funds sought for firefighters memorial
The Jeff Morris and Neil Heesacker Fire Museum reopened as funds are being raised for a new memorial for fallen Portland firefighters. Over the years, 36 Portland firefighters have died in the line of duty or from work-related illnesses.
The David Campbell Memorial will be located next to Fire Station 21 on the Eastbank Esplanade. It is named after a former fire chief who is credited with modernizing the fire bureau at the turn of the century. He was killed when he rushed into a massive fire in the Union Oil Warehouse on Southeast Water Street on June 26, 1911.
"He literally gave his life to save his firefighters. When he passed, there were 150,000 people who attended his funeral," says Terry Shanley, president of the David Campbell Memorial Association, which is leading the drive for the new memorial.
Campell and the other firefighters currently are honored at the small Firefighters Park at Northwest 18th Avenue and Burnside Street. Established in 1927, it is a National Historic Landmark that includes "The Messenger," which is an early fire alarm bell that could be heard all the way to Oregon City. The park is frequently overrun by transients and littered with garbage, including needles, these days.
"It's not worthy of the sacrifice that the firefighters make for us every day, and so we set off to create a new one," Shanley says.
Although Firefighters Park will remain, the association chose the location next to Fire Station 21 for the new memorial. In the fall of 2009, it partnered with Portland State University to conduct a design competition for a new memorial.
A winning design by Whelton Architecture was selected. It involves both low horizontal stone benches and walls that are rooted into the earth, and tall vertical lanterns that gently sway overhead in a series of parallel lines.
"The figural reading of the memorial changes depending on the distance from which it is experienced," explains the architecture firm, which is partnering with Olek Zemplinski of the bioLINIA design collaborative on the project. "Seen from greater distances, the lanterns merge into a unified line of light in the sky. This constellation-like pattern will expand the presence of the memorial into a symbol which is visible and recognizable across Portland."
The memorial will cost $1 million. Firefighters and the city already have contributed approximately a quarter of the cost. The goal is to have the new memorial built by 2020.
"We want to make something a lot more iconic than what we have," Shanley says.
KOIN 6 News contributed to this story.