Portland fire boat out of commission after running aground

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PORTLAND — The city’s new fire boat is temporarily out of the water following an accident Saturday night that ripped a hole in the hull of the craft and caused the propeller shaft to snap off, along with taking chunks out of the propeller itself.

The $3.2 million City of Portland IV, which began service in September, is sitting on stands at Gowen Marine on Commercial Street. A marine surveyor was inspecting the damage this week, which also included a broken propeller, shaft and a damaged rudder. 

Fire Chief Fred LaMontagne said Monday that it was unclear how much it would cost to fix the boat, or how long repairs would take. The boat is insured and the policy carries a $25,000 deductible.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to get it repaired and back in service within a month,” LaMontagne said.

In the meantime, the 50-year-old City of Portland III, which the city plans to put up for sale as scrap, is back in service. 

The accident happened at about 6:30 p.m. Saturday when the boat, with two crew members aboard, was returning from a rescue at Jewell Island. The fire boat had answered an emergency call from a couple stranded on the island after the husband fell out of a kayak and could not get back in.

Jewell Island is the farthest of Portland’s islands, past Cliff Island. 

While attempting to rescue the couple, LaMontagne said, two of the four crew members road a skiff in the dark into the shallow waters near the shore, anchoring it in about 3 1/2 feet of water. They found the couple on a small cliff. After treating them – LaMontagne said the man was showing signs of hypothermia – the two crew members and two kayakers made their way to the skiff. 

“By that time, the skiff was resting comfortably on some rocks,” LaMontagne said. The tide was going out, and was what he called an astronomically low tide, meaning the water was more shallow that usual.

A Coast Guard boat arrived a short time later to help and also became stuck on the rocks.

“So, they became members of the island party,” LaMontagne said.

The stranded rescuers and the couple started a fire on the island to stay warm, the chief said, while the fire boat left to go back to the mainland for additional crew members and to get the city’s other small boat.

“During that time, we struck something very solid in the channel,” LaMontagne said. The accident happened at about 6:30 p.m. in Whitehead Passage, which is near Great Diamond Island.

LaMontagne said the two crew members went through safety protocols, including shutting the engine down and turning on water pumps. The boat was taking water on in a water-tight compartment at the stern. 

Mainland firefighters took the Cavallaro, a smaller rescue boat, out to the fire boat and towed it in. The 65-foot boat was then taken out of the water, LaMontagne said.

“It’s a tragedy we hit anything,” the chief said. “Fortunately features designed to minimize damage in the result of an accident functioned properly.”

The propeller shaft, for example, was designed to snap off so it doesn’t damage the engine, the chief said. 

The couple, rescue workers and Coast Guard members were rescued from the island at about midnight by the Marine Patrol. No one was injured.

LaMontagne said the last time a fire boat hit anything was about 15 years ago. 

“If there’s a message, it is that when using our waterways take precautions and be aware of quick changes in tide and cold water,” LaMontagne said.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net



p-fireboat_bottom-111109.jpgPortland’s damaged fire boat is out of the water at Gowen Marine on Commercial Street, where it is being inspected for damage after running aground last Saturday night. The City of Portland has a damaged keel, the port struts that locate the driveshaft are broken, the port propeller has several broken blades, the port rudder is bent and there are several holes in the hull from hitting a ledge.p-fireboat_propeller-111109.jpgThe broken propeller of Portland’s new fire boat.

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p-fireboat-111109.jpgPortland’s new fire boat sits on blocks at Gowen Marine on Commercial Street where it is being inspected for damage.