Firefighters in Public Life

Firefighters in Public Life: A Special Culture and its Contributions to Community Affairs – An Oral History Investigation

“Oregon Firefighter” January-February, 1951

“Oregon Firefighter” January-February, 1951

Terry Schrunk served Portland as mayor from 1957 to 1973, a notably long term for a political leader of a major American city. The end stage of his career has interested historians for its run-in with a mafia-hunting Bobby Kennedy.

But little has been made of its exceptional origins: Terry Schrunk was a distinctly public man who arrived to politics from the profession of firefighter.

What’s really interesting is that this is not the only case of its kind. Oregon would seem in fact to be particularly blessed with leaders from that same supposedly unlikely source, namely: Ed Whelan, President of the Oregon AFL-CIO (1965-1973), followed recently in that position by Tom Chamberlain; Ed Lindquist who served as State legislator (1973-1983); and then once again a firefighter in city government, Randy Leonard, Commissioner (2002-2012) and former State legislator (1993-2002).

There must be something in the air, something in the culture of the firehouse. We are investigating this phenomenon through oral histories with individuals who have trod this path so rich in potential value to community.


P.C. “Pete” Leineweber (right) with son Jim (left), newly appointed Lt., June 1975 (Jim Leineweber)

Jim Leineweber

Helping to set the scene are excerpts from interviews by Jim Strassmaier with Jim Leineweber, Portland firefighter (IAFF Local 43) from 1965 to retirement in 2000.

Jim Leineweber remembers a firefighter father not at all shy about bringing politics into conversation both at home and at work.

OHS Serial Number: 11419, Jim Leineweber: Tape 1, Side 1 November 6, 2014

Surely nothing more dramatically defines ‘community service’ than the daily experience, the very activity of firefighting itself. Jim remembers his own, unforgettable ‘first day’ at the hyperactive station near the Brooklyn rail yard in southeast Portland.

OHS Serial Number: 11419, Jim Leineweber: Tape 3, Side 1 November 11, 2014

The Leineweber interviews, conducted by the Oregon Labor Oral History Program (OLOHP)  are archived at the Oregon Historical Society, along with oral histories of Whelan and Lindquist.  Interviews with Tom Chamberlain,  currently in progress, are sponsored by IAFF Local 43.