Honoring Portland firefighters

 In the early morning of June 26, 1911, a fire alarm sounded. An oil pump threw a spark that ignited the Union Oil distributing plant on Southeast Salmon Street and Water Avenue.

 In the early morning of June 26, 1911, a fire alarm sounded. An oil pump threw a spark that ignited the Union Oil distributing plant on Southeast Salmon Street and Water Avenue. Engine companies from around the city arrived at the scene where Fire Chief David Campbell would battle his last fire. As the conflagration raged, Campbell rushed into the building to save his crew, but the structure collapsed.

A memorial to Campbell’s service is currently located at the corner of Northwest 18th Avenue and Burnside Street, but a new memorial was recently designed through a competition, organized in part by Portland State’s Department of Architecture, to honor the 36 Portland firefighters who have died in the line of duty since 1881.

Jeff Schnabel, associate professor of architecture, coordinated the competition in partnership with Portland Fire and Rescue and the David Campbell Memorial Association.

Initially, 16 adjunct architecture professors were identified as possible participants.

“We went with this group because [PSU] draws many of its adjunct professors from the architecture community, which is a nice cross section of practicing architects in Portland,” Schnabel said.

From the group, seven entered submissions for the competition that were then placed on public display in Shattuck Hall. Four battalions of firefighters viewed the submissions in November 2009 and filled out ballots for their favorites.

“[The ballots] had a strong influence on the selection committee,” Schnabel said.

The committee—of which Schnabel was a member—then narrowed the field down to three. Those designers were asked to revise their design schemes based on reviews by various city agencies and selection committee comments, he said.

Last week, the Firefighter Memorial Committee chose the winning design for the memorial, which was designed by Aaron Whelton of Whelton Architecture.

“The site for the memorial, which is amazing, is on the east bank of the river along the esplanade, adjacent to the Hawthorne Bridge,” Schnabel said.

The memorial will be within sight of where the fire killed Campbell nearly 100 years ago. Also next to the site is Portland Firestation 21, and its crew will help maintain the memorial.

Another possible aspect of the memorial involves a fireboat, named after Campbell, which is still used by Portland firefighters.

“It will be taken out of service eventually and may be parked in front of the memorial,” said firefighter Paul Corah, who is involved with the memorial project.

The focal point of the memorial will be 36 illuminated lanterns. Each 50-foot-tall lantern will represent a fallen firefighter. In the middle of the memorial will be a courtyard that will have a wall containing the names of the firefighters. At the other end of the courtyard will rest a memorial bell to be rung at a ceremony every June to commemorate fallen firefighters, Corah said.

Whelton said that experiencing the memorial from different areas of the city will change the figural reading of the memorial.

The lanterns will dim and brighten on a monthly illumination cycle that will represent the number of “historical line-of-duty deaths,” Whelton said.

“Within the field of the memorial, each individual lantern is clearly identifiable and the space between them is varied to accommodate both individual visitors and larger groups. 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,” he said.

Aside from Whelton, other contributors to the project include PSU architecture students Doug Sheets, Diane Deitering and Olek Zemplinski.

Whelton said the design establishes two discernable experiential zones: “At the ground level, low horizontal stone benches and walls are rooted into the earth, and in the sky, tall vertical lanterns gently sway overhead.”

A contractor will be chosen later this year to construct the memorial.

Funds for the project will be raised through private donations. Commissioner Randy Leonard is leading these fundraising efforts. The goal is to erect the memorial by June 26, 2011, the annual date of the service held in memory of Portland firefighters and the 100-year anniversary of Campbell’s death.

Information can be found about the memorial and how to donate to the project at www.portlandfirefightersmemorial.org.