The Portland Fire Department is partnering with social service agencies to reach out to the city’s homeless population and educate them about fire safety.
Fire Chief Jerome LaMoria, members of the PFD and various agencies began handing out flameless candles and fire prevention pamphlets Tuesday outside the Preble Street Resource Center. The outreach and education efforts were triggered by the death of a homeless man who was killed at his campsite off West Commercial Street by a fire.
Brian Barbour, 53, died of smoke inhalation when his tent caught fire on April 6, according to the medical examiner’s office. Investigators ruled that the cause of the fire was accidental and that it was likely started by a candle.
Emergency crews were called to West Commercial Street, near the railroad tracks, around 11:30 p.m. Crew found Barbour’s body in the tent while the fire was being extinguished, according to a press release. The fire destroyed the tent, personal belongings and burned a small sections of woods.
Earlier in the winter, the PFD responded to a campsite off Washington Avenue that caught fire and led to a man and woman being treated for exposure.
"This population is growing in Portland," LaMoria said, and Barbour’s death pointed to their vulnerability.
Joe McNally, of the Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement, or HOME Team, said Milestone and the Preble Street Resource Center will work through their outreach program to help raise awareness about fire safety.
Portland’s homeless population has skyrocketed, said McNally, and the shelters are overflowing at this point. Some people don’t want to deal with the crowding and often stay out of the shelters, he said, and that’s where the outreach is needed. "We need to meet them where they’re at," he said.
Bills Burns, of the Preble Street Resource Center, said he’s happy to partner with the Fire Department and work on the outreach efforts.
"Anything we can do to reduce harm is important," said Burns.
LaMoria said many people don’t think about the danger associated with having an open flame inside of a fabric tent.
"The flameless candles give them an alternative to using an open flame," he said.
The information pamphlets were donated by Curry Printing.