New PCC Foundation scholarship enshrines legacy of Portland’s first black firefighter

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In the history of any city, there are trailblazers whose courage and resolve help to pave the way for those who come after them.

One such legacy – that of a man named Gus Waterford — was enshrined recently when the City of Portland and the Portland Fire & Rescue Bureau officially proclaimed February 2018 to be “Pioneer Black Firefighters of Portland Month.”

Portland firefighters testify before the Portland City Council on the legacy of Gus Waterford.

Portland firefighters testify before the Portland City Council on the legacy of Gus Waterford.

Waterford made Portland history when, in 1890, he became the first African American firefighter to join the ranks of the Portland Fire & Rescue Bureau. In recognition of this achievement, and in tandem with the city’s proclamation, the Portland Community College Foundation established the Gus Waterford Memorial Scholarship. Starting in the 2018-19 academic year, the scholarship will be awarded to one first-generation student in PCC’s Fire Protection Technology Program – based at the Cascade Campus — each year.

“We’re thrilled to be able to award this scholarship,” said Ann Prater, director of the PCC Foundation. “Not only will it help train students to save lives, but it will ensure that Gus Waterford’s legacy will live on.”

The proclamation and the scholarship arose from a desire on the part of African American firefighters in Portland to recognize peers who came before them, according to a memorandum written by Portland Fire Chief Mike Myers.

“Honoring the legacy of the first black firefighter for the City of Portland, and funded by the generosity of Portland Fire & Rescue black firefighters, Portland Community College is proud to offer the Gus Waterford Memorial Scholarship to a student majoring in fire protection technology,” said Doug Smith, an instructor with Fire Protection Technology.

The memorandum read: “Recently, it was discovered that Portland’s first black firefighter joined our ranks in 1890, a stunning development considering the exclusionary laws in place at the time. That man, Augustus ‘Gus’ Waterford, served from 1890-1892. … As Chief, it was a proud moment to see our firefighters following their passion to create something positive for the community – a new scholarship – to help more people access the rich history and endless potential that lies in a career in the fire service.”

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