Operation Hydration: AMR Portland Keeps Community Hydrated During Record-Breaking Heat Wave

July 22, 2021

When local meteorologists forecast record-breaking high temperatures across the Portland metro area, Marc Kilman-Burnham, Director of Business Development and Government Affairs for AMR Portland, took the news with a grain of salt. In his experience, meteorologists were rarely in step with the actual weather, which fluctuates often (and often unpredictably) in the Pacific Northwest.

“Those of us from Oregon know the weather reporters sit around a table someplace and pull their forecast from an old boot or a weather Magic 8-ball,” said Kilman-Burnham. “But on Friday, June 25, 2021, that all changed.”

That was the first day of the predicted heat wave. Right on schedule, the mercury pushed past 95 degrees. Typically, at this time of year, Washington and Oregon see average highs in the 70s. With even higher temperatures forecast for the weekend, Kilman-Burnham knew AMR needed to take action.

“I was talking about the extreme heat and said that I wanted to go out with a Mobile Hydration Unit (MHU), like we did 15 years ago. Everyone was on board and my former partner, current AMR Community Education Director Lucie Drum, said ‘let’s call it Operation Hydration.’ It didn’t take long for our amazing fleet team to get the AMR Bus 1 operational and the AC working like a meat locker.”

Kilman-Burnham reached out to members of the Clackamas County Chamber Board and they helped coordinate the donation of all the water and sports drinks they needed for the hydration mission. Albertsons/Safeway donated hundreds of dollars, and local businesses, like Chris Cakes Northwest, also donated water supplies. 

Days Grow Hotter, Need Greater

On that first day, Friday, Kilman-Burnham took the Mobile Hydration Unit out for a test run at 1:00 pm looking for dehydrated travelers before Saturday’s estimated 108 degrees. By 7:00 pm, he had provided water and information on heat-related symptoms to more than 100 people.

On Saturday, the temperature reached 109 degrees, the hottest day on record in Portland. Joining Kilman-Burnham were Randy Lauer (Vice President of Operations, AMR Portland), Cyndi Lauer, Linda Burnham, Angeleah Manosalva, Clackamas County Commissioner Martha Schrader and Max the Wonder Dog.

“We traveled across Clackamas County providing water and sports drinks to people traveling via the transit system, walking down the street and at local parks and popular river locations,” said Kilman-Burnham. “Randy and I were even called into service when we stopped at High Rocks to visit our River Rescue Program team who was busy taking care of hundreds of swimmers.”

Commissioner Schrader asked if the MHU could stop at one of the county “cooling” locations.
The team left High Rocks with a cooler filled with 100 bottles of water and headed for the Gladstone Senior Center to help out the senior citizens who often are more adversely effected by high temperatures due to age and medications that can raise body temperatures. 

From the senior center, the MHU was back on the road to Meldrum Bar and Clackamette Parks, where the team walked the river shore, passing out water to anyone who needed it. By the end of the day, they had distributed more than 350 bottles of water and 50 sports drinks to those who needed electrolytes.

Heat records fell again on Sunday as the temperature reached 112 degrees. The bus routes were quiet, but the rivers and parks overflowed with people, which is where the MHU spent most of the day, until Clackamas County Commissioner Sonja Fischer contacted Kilman-Burnham and said she was concerned with the area’s homeless camps. 

“I had been reaching as many homeless as I could the previous days, but Commissioner Fischer was able to have staff contact me with other locations. I switched from the AMR bus to a smaller AMR supervisor unit to help access some of the homeless areas in the county. By the end of the day, I was out of water and ice. I started the day with eleven 40-bottle cases.”

On Monday, June 28, temperatures reached a scorching, almost unbelievable, 118 degrees—now, the hottest day Portland has ever recorded. From 11:00 am to 7:00 pm, the MHU toured bus routes, homeless camps, parks, and rivers. Local news stations had picked up the story and Kilman-Burnham did a KOIN news interview via a Zoom call at one of the parks. The word was out on the streets of Clackamas County that the “Hydration Guy” was on patrol.

Paying it Forward

Overnight, the temperature in Portland dropped from Monday’s high to the overnight low of 64 degrees. The rapid cooling marked the biggest overnight drop in temperature in recorded history for the city. It was an opportunity to take stock of the achievements of the MHU. AMR’s four-day Operation Hydration mission led to distributing nearly 1,500 bottles of water and more than 200 sports drinks. For Kilman-Burnham, it was all about the people: both the ones in need of help and those who pitched in to help.

“I met with many people who shared stories about their positive experiences with our EMTs and Paramedics,” he said. “It was exhilarating and rewarding to provide hydration services to the communities AMR serves during our historic heat wave. While I was buying ice one day, a checker asked what I was doing with all the ice. A woman behind me heard and said, “I will pay for that ice.” The same thing happened when I went to buy more sports drinks. The two people in line behind me paid for all the drinks. It just goes to show you one act of kindness leads to others joining a cause.” 


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