Portland reviews fire boat policy in wake of accident

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PORTLAND — The second accident in as many years involving the city’s $3.2 million fire boat has prompted a comprehensive review of department policies and procedures for using the vessel.

City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg on Tuesday said the city is reviewing whether more training is needed for boat pilots and is setting up a protocol for allowing civilian passengers aboard the boat.

The action comes after the City of Portland MV IV struck an underwater object near Fort Gorges shortly before 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 15. Repairing the damage to the port shaft, prop and rudder is expected to cost about $38,000, the city said in a press release.

City officials conducted an investigation and determined that, although the crew was conducting training exercises, the accident was preventable.

The city last Friday said that Capt. Christopher Goodall and firefighter Joseph Murphy were suspended without pay because “they failed to comply with common practices and U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Rules to ensure safe operation of the vessel.”

Clegg said firefighters frequently transfer in and out of the marine division, so the chief expects the crew to practice using the boat nearly every day. “It ensures a good safe response to emergencies,” she said. 

Boat pilots are trained by their peers, not the Coast Guard. But Clegg said the city is looking into whether more formal training is needed.

The city said the investigation also determined that Goodall allowed 12 civilians, including family members, to accompany the crew.

Clegg said Goodall was suspended for 10 days because he invited the civilians. Murphy was suspended for five days.

Clegg said it is not uncommon for civilians to be transported on the boat when they are city employees on an assignment.

Crews can no longer take civilians on the boat without first getting permission from the chief or deputy chief, she said.

Fire Chief Fred LaMontagne has ordered a comprehensive review of practices and policies to “implement necessary changes surrounding the transportation of civilians,” the city said.

Clegg said no disciplinary action is expected against LaMontagne.

This is the second accident involving the $3.2 million boat. In November 2009, two months after it was purchased, the boat ran aground near Jewel Island, resulting in about $90,000 in damage.

Clegg said the city will have to pay a $25,000 insurance deductible and hopes the vessel will be repaired by the end of the week, depending on the availability of parts.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings