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By Janie Har July 29, 2011

When Charlie Hales was on the Portland City Council, it diversified the Fire Bureau

PolitiFact Oregon is leery of statements from politicians touting their accomplishments as they run for office. So we were on our guard when we came across this boast in Charlie Hales’ letter to Portland on his website:

"I’m good at solving problems and getting things done. When I served as City Commissioner, we … successfully fought for, and won, adding women and people of color to the Fire Bureau."

Hales has a reputation for championing streetcars and high-density living, but diversifying a bureau? We wanted to know what happened at the Portland Fire Bureau, and the nature of Hales’ role in the fight to add more women and people of color to a traditionally white male profession.

Hales was elected in 1992 and given oversight of the Fire Bureau as part of his portfolio. On Sept, 7, 1994, the Portland City Council approved a new firefighter trainee program, specifically to boost the number of women and people of color at the fire bureau. Hales, making the pitch, explained that the goal of the program was to recruit potential firefighters and train them to take the firefighter exam.

The Oregonian reported at the time that of 712 sworn firefighters, line supervisors and battalion chiefs, there were three women firefighters, 10 African Americans, 11 Hispanics, three Native Americans and two Asians. That means 3.6 percent were members of ethnic minority groups and 0.42 percent were women. Commissioners unanimously approved the ordinance, which included $158,000 for six months.

Hales had help from Fire Chief Robert Wall,  whom he hired  from California specifically to shake up the bureau; Randy Leonard, union president at the time; and William Kendrix, then president of the Portland Black Firefighters’ Association. Kendrix, who retired in 2004, said his organization brought the trainee idea forward, and that "Commissioner Hales, Randy Leonard and Chief Wall understood that if you wanted to change the numbers, then you had to reach out and provide some community support."  

Hales said in an interview that he did not seek out the Fire Bureau, but once he inherited it, he made diversity a priority. "These are issues on which I led," he said, adding that "others on the council were colleagues and supporters."

Leonard, the former union president,  is now a sitting commissioner who supported current Mayor Sam Adams for re-election until Adams announced he would not run. Leonard told PolitiFact Oregon he brought forward the plan that would eventually become the trainee program. He recalled that all four commissioners and Mayor Vera Katz asked hard questions about cost. And Hales?  

"I would say he certainly wasn’t opposed," Leonard said. "I would not say he led the effort, I would not say he spearheaded the effort, but I would say he was supportive of the effort."

We also called Gretchen Kafoury, who served on the council in 1994 with Katz and Hales. She doesn’t recall all the facts, or all the maneuvering, but she said: "Charlie certainly did work to diversify employment in the Fire Bureau. I’m totally confident in that statement." The heart of the claim is whether the Fire Bureau hired more women and minorities. Here are the numbers:

  1993 2002 2005 NOW ** African American 10 27 26 25 Asian American 2 23 25 38 Latino 11 25 28 32 Native American 3 13 15 23 Women, all 3 36 40 50 Total, sworn 712 670 669 698

**In addition, seven firefighters are biracial/multiracial.

Hales oversaw the Fire Bureau in 1994 when the City Council approved a trainee program to diversify its ranks. Hales hired a new chief specifically to diversify the bureau. And the numbers started going up. iIn spite of Leonard’s equivocation, we think it’s fair to say that as a member of City Council, Hales "successfully fought for, and won, adding women and people of color to the Fire Bureau."

We rate the claim as True.

Comment on this item.

Our Sources

The Oregonian, "Fire Bureau plans to recruit diversity," Sept. 2, 1994

The Oregonian, "Firefighter recruitment targets minorities," Sept. 7, 1994

The Oregonian, "Fire Chief to recruit minorities," April 28, 1994

The Oregonian, "Fire Chief Wall will leave in February," Sept. 6, 2000

The Oregonian, "Hales gets new job, will leave council," April 24, 2002

City of Portland, Sept.7, 1994 minutes of City Council

Interview with Randy Leonard, July 13, 2011

Interview with William Kendrix, July 14, 2011  

Interview with Charlie Hales, July 18, 2011

Interview with Gretchen Kafoury, July 18, 2011

City of Portland, Fast Facts about Portland Fire & Rescue

Bureau of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services, "Affirmative Action Strategy 2002-2004,"
Portland Fire & Rescue, "Affirmative Action Strategy 2005-2008."

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When Charlie Hales was on the Portland City Council, it diversified the Fire Bureau

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