Portland took a fire ax to another glass ceiling this month with the swearing in of the city's first-ever female African-American fire chief took the helm of Portland Fire & Rescue.
From the podium at the swearing-in ceremony, Fire Chief Sara Boone told a large crowd of family, friends and fellow first responders that her No. 1 priority was ensuring the safety of everyone who calls Portland home.
"My position is not a position of power, but a platform of support," Boone said in a speech met with cheers and applause at the Cascade Campus of Portland Community College on North Killingsworth Avenue on Monday, Aug. 12.
"Courage and strength, care and compassion are not qualities worn on our shoulders and sleeves like rank," she continued. "They are not part of this uniform that we take off when our shift ends. These values are the foundation of who we are as a department, a city and a nation."
The chief shared that her journey began when her birth mother made a choice, "based on love," to give her up for adoption. Boone then grew up in Portland with a family that taught her "anything is possible."
She graduated from Lincoln High School as an accomplished athlete, and later joined the fire bureau's apprenticeship program following a chance conversation with a fire inspector while student teaching at Marshall High.
She was the bureau's first female African-American firefighter when she joined in 1995, and also the first to be promoted to battalion chief in 2014. Over her 24-year career, Boone has gained leadership experience with the bureau's operations, logistics and safety divisions.
Overseeing a bureau with a 136-year-long history as a paid firefighting force, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said the appointment was long overdue. But despite the "deep bench" of talent within Portland Fire & Rescue, Hardesty said Boone's promotion wasn't a foregone conclusion.
"Just like most firefighters, she gave me a list of reasons why she would be a horrible choice," Hardesty recalled with a laugh. "She didn't know that I had a secret weapon, and that was Ryan Gillespie."
Gillespie, who has finished his six months as interim fire chief, was one of many who praised Boone for the job. Gillespie met Boone during his first shift at Station 14 about 20 years ago.
"You have a passion for this," he said, "and now with you as our fire chief, that passion will spread even further."
Boone presented a special commendation to Erwin Warren, a retired trainer of countless firefighters during a career of decades with the bureau.
When Warren taught Boone, it was part of a 24-person class that had access to only one engine. A bit of a stretch, considering that Portland typically assigns just four firefighters to each truck.
A lot has changed since then, but not everything.
"I was impressed then, and I'm impressed now," Warren said of Boone.
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