PORTLAND — More than two-thirds of the trips made last year by the Portland Fire Department’s fireboats were for non-emergency purposes, according to city records.

The records for 2010 show 547 “service runs” to ferry city employees to the islands or make other non-urgent trips, and 239 emergency runs to respond to medical or fire calls. The numbers reflect total trips by all three of the vessels in the department’s marine unit — the 65-foot City of Portland IV, a $3.2 million fireboat delivered in the fall of 2009; the 44-foot Joseph C. Cavallaro, commissioned in 1993 and used primarily for medical transports; and a 14-foot skiff.

Fire Chief Fred LaMontagne said Wednesday that the City of Portland IV has been used to fight fires “about six times” in the past year. It was that boat that sustained an estimated $38,000 in damage when it was grounded off Fort Gorges on Oct. 15 while carrying 12 civilians on what the city has called a “training exercise.”

Records dating to January of 2009 document a number of non-emergency runs, including an outing for a nursery school group in 2009, a February 2010 trip by journalists from The Boston Globe, a harbor cruise for Cub Scouts the following month, a ride last July for the daughter and the granddaughter of a former fire chief who died in 1999, three “charity harbor cruise” trips this past July, the City Council’s annual island tour in August, the new city manager’s trip to Fort Gorges on Sept. 16, and a “harbor cruise” for the fire chief and a software vendor two days before the Oct. 15 grounding.

City Manager Mark Rees earlier this week called the Oct. 15 trip an anomaly. He said Wednesday that he still regards such trips as rare exceptions, based in part on assurances from LaMontagne.

“I have a lot of confidence in the fire chief. He’s been very frank and forthcoming with me,” Rees said. He added that he and LaMontagne are involved in develop new policies on the use of the fireboat that will be reviewed by the Portland City Council’s public safety committee on Tuesday.

The fireboat grounded on an underwater object in a rocky area outside safe navigational waters on the north side of Fort Gorges around sunset on Oct. 15. A shaft was sheared off the fireboat and a propeller and the rudder were damaged in the accident. The boat headed for Rockland for repairs Wednesday morning and will be out of commission for at least the rest of this week.

An investigation by LaMontagne found the accident could have been avoided and the crew — firefighter Joseph Murphy and Capt. Christopher Goodall — failed to follow proper procedures and Coast Guard regulations. The investigation also found that 12 civilians, including some of Goodall’s relatives, had been invited aboard to accompany the crew on what city officials say was a training run.

Murphy, who was piloting the boat, was suspended for three days and Goodall for 10 days, both without pay. They were not disciplined for having the civilians on the boat because the city has no policies governing civilian rides on the boat.

Most of the non-emergency trips made by the marine unit are to take firefighters, police or other city employees to the islands. Portland spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said city employees use the fireboat, instead of the ferry that runs to the city’s islands, if they have to transport large objects or equipment or if the ferry’s schedule doesn’t allow for efficient use of their time.

However, a few of the trips are seemingly non-official, such as LaMontagne’s trip on the fireboat on Oct. 13 with a software developer and her family. LaMontagne said he invited the woman from SunGard, which is developing a program for the department to track inspections and violations, so she could see the complexity of waterfront structures from the harbor side.

“It was also to recognize her efforts over the past 15 to 18 weeks she was up here” working on the project, LaMontagne said.

LaMontagne said he extended the invitation to the woman only, and she brought along her husband and two children, who had accompanied her to Maine for a vacation while she was working on the Fire Department project.

“As sometimes happens when you invite a person (on the fireboat), they invite others,” LaMontagne said.

The trip was officially logged in city records as a “harbor cruise.”

Rees said some of those cruises are warranted, such as trips which have taken U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and staff members to view the city’s waterfront.

“There’s a clear distinction between a firefighter putting friends and family on the boat” and other non-emergency trips that Rees called “public service runs.”

“I’m sure there’s good public policy for most of these, but having said that, we need to review them to make sure they’re good policy,” he said.

Rees said he sees nothing wrong with rides on the department’s boats being auctioned off, because that raises money for local charities. The log indicates trips for charity were made this summer on July 1, 23 and 24, the day before the fireboat was used for a cruise by two dozen visitors from Portland’s sister city in Shinegawa, Japan.

The city makes the fireboat available at no charge for the charity runs.

Clegg, the city spokeswoman, said two of the charity runs were authorized for the Shriners and the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Spokesmen for those two groups said Wednesday they could not immediately confirm whether the fireboat had been used and whether any money was raised for them.

Clegg said the city has authorized a total of nine fireboat trips for charity, but she was unsure how many of the trips had been redeemed.


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