Portland Fire & Rescue Chief Sara Boone announced her retirement Thursday afternoon. She will step down July 12 from the position she’s held since 2019.
Boone’s retirement comes at a time when the fire bureau is chronically short-staffed and under the new leadership of City Commissioner Rene Gonzalez, who’s been an outspoken supporter of the firefighters’ union. During her time as chief, Boone struggled to manage high overtime costs and the changing demands of the fire bureau as homelessness and mental health crises increase. Her retirement also comes at a time when the fire bureau is experiencing cultural friction with Portland Street Response, a mental health response program under the fire bureau’s watch and budget.
The division chief who oversaw Portland Street Response, Tim Matthews, is currently on leave and accused Boone of retaliating against him in a tort claim notice filed earlier this year. Boone denied any wrongdoing and said a city human relations investigation cleared her.
Gonzalez has appointed Ryan Gillespie, who replaced Matthews as chief of the fire bureau’s Community Safety Division, as interim fire chief until the city switches to a new form of government in the fall of 2024 and the bureau comes under the control of a city manager.
Boone is the first Black woman to ever serve as Portland’s fire chief. Former Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty appointed Boone, who has been with the fire bureau for more than 25 years.
“Together we have experienced some of the most challenging times in the history of Portland Fire,” Boone said in a statement. “Considering all that we’ve faced over the past four years, I couldn’t be prouder and more honored to have closed out my career by leading one of the nation’s premier fire agencies.”