Fire Bureau Storing Disaster Supplies in Warehouse that Doesn't Meet Seismic Code

Gideon Building was purchased from relative of former chief.

Portland Fire & Rescue has been storing equipment used to respond to disasters in a building that would fall down in a major earthquake.

an owner related to a former fire chief

As WW first reported in this week's Murmurs, the fire bureau has been storing two Mass Casualty Incident trailers in the Gideon Building, a 1907 warehouse at 1300 SE Gideon St., since 2008—even though the building doesn't meet current building codes or seismic standards.

That means if the "Big One" had struck Portland on any given day during the past five years, inflatable patient treatment tents, oxygen generators, decontamination suits, and trauma supplies might have been inaccessible under rubble.

City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, a longtime advocate of reform who now oversees the fire bureau, pointed out the equipment's storage as a problem during an August tour of fire facilities. The bureau moved the trailers Nov. 19.

Staffer Matt Grumm says Saltzman's experience with the Bureau of Development Services made him "pretty immersed in building codes and seismic updates. He was very attuned to that."

Fire Chief Erin Janssens says the bureau moved the two trailers from the bureau's Northeast 122nd Avenue training facility to the Gideon site in 2008 for upgrades. The trailers stayed there while the city looked for sites on each side of the river that were covered and had electricity.

"There are not many seismically safe storage facilities in the City," says Janssens.

But the Gideon Building has an unusual history. As WW reported in 2005, the fire bureau bought it in 2001 from Michael Jerry Sprando, who wouldn't accept the appraised value—which was already double its value the year before. 

Sprando is a distant cousin of Dave Sprando, who was named Portland's fire chief in 2005. He's also related to Greg Sprando, a retired battalion chief.

As recently as February, the fire bureau asked City Council for money to finish renovations on the Gideon Building, which also houses the Fire Marshal's permits office.

"This building is approximately 100 years old and does not meet current building codes or seismic standards," the bureau wrote in its budget request. "Its electrical system, HVAC, plumbing, windows and insulation are obsolete, energy inefficient, and require continuous maintenance."

Janssens says the bureau is still using the Gideon Building to store some equipment for disasters, including ladders and body bags.