PORTLAND — Three months after one of three firefighters stationed on Portland’s fireboat was moved to Peaks Island, city officials say the reassignment has had benefits without adding significant delays to the fireboat’s response, even though it can’t be launched without three firefighters on board.

The fire chief defended the change even though police from Portland and South Portland reached an injured woman in the harbor last weekend before the fireboat got there.

“Ultimately, there’s an impact on the decision to reduce the boat to two to provide the service to Peaks Island,” said Fire Chief Fred LaMontagne. “We’re doing our best to minimize that and balance the needs of everyone else in the city.”

Before this year, the boat had a three-person crew at all times. The city shifted resources by replacing one of the two medically trained police officers stationed on Peaks Island with a medically trained firefighter.

That met a request by islanders for more medical coverage, increased police staffing on the mainland and saved money in police overtime.

Since July, the Fire Department’s marine unit has been assigned 231 calls, 134 of them for emergency medical service and 97 fire calls. The unit includes the Cavallaro, a faster boat than the City of Portland IV, which is used for swift transport and some medical calls.

LaMontagne said few of the responses have had substantial delays because of the wait for a third crewman.

Even with three firefighters on the boat, more emergency responders are on board for most calls, LaMontagne said.

A medical call entails transporting a two-person ambulance crew on the boat in addition to the crew. A fire call requires at least one three-person engine company, maybe several, he said.

Also, it can take two to three minutes to get the 65-foot boat’s engines started, its lines untied and other equipment readied for an emergency call, depending on the time of year and the nature of the call, LaMontagne said. That’s about the time it takes for additional firefighters to arrive.

The City of Portland IV, which cost $3.2 million, should have a pilot and at least two others to help manage the boat and respond to an emergency, he said.

The union representing Portland firefighters would like to see the fireboat crew restored to full strength. John Brooks, president of Local 740 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said it makes sense to have a firefighter on Peaks full time, but not at the expense of fireboat staffing.

“There’s essentially a cut in service every time they get under way for an emergency on the fireboat,” Brooks said. “They have to take a truck out of service on the mainland.”

Brooks agrees that the size of the boat necessitates three people to operate it. He says the city should have hired additional staffers to cover the new responsibilities.

Companies from elsewhere in the city, and sometimes even outside the city, shift to provide fire and rescue protection when companies are assigned to a fireboat call, LaMontagne said.

The presence of a firefighter-paramedic on the island has paid off in a couple of notable instances in the first three months, say city officials.

A firefighter was available to respond immediately to a car crash July 5 in which a woman was critically injured. More recently, the firefighter-paramedic was summoned to help an island resident who was having a heart attack.

LaMontagne concedes that there are impacts in shifting personnel, but said the department is continually making decisions about how best to assign available resources and provide the best coverage.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]