PORTLAND — The city’s two-year-old fireboat was damaged last weekend for the second time when it hit something underwater during a navigational training run.
The City of Portland IV was on the far side of Fort Gorges from the city shortly before 6 p.m. Saturday when the accident occurred, Fire Chief Fred LaMontagne said Wednesday. The impact sheared off a shaft and damaged a propeller and the rudder.
LaMontagne would not be specific about the location of the accident or whether it happened near where the schooner Wendameen hit a charted underwater wreck in June, saying an investigation is under way.
The accident was the second involving the $3.2 million fireboat, which Portland put into service in September 2009.
The boat ran aground in November 2009 in Whitehead Passage, the channel between Peaks and Cushing islands, sustaining $90,000 worth of damage. It was out of commission until February 2010 for repairs.
The city expects to take the boat to Rockland to be fixed again in a few days, after a storm with high winds passes by and seas die down.
LaMontagne said the boat “sailed over” whatever was in the water, rather than coming to a stop. But the shaft was sheared off — as designed, to prevent damage to the transmission — and the propeller and rudder were damaged as a result.
The accident happened about two hours before low tide Saturday, within a few minutes of sunset.
The boat’s other shaft and propeller weren’t damaged and the boat returned to Portland without aid, LaMontagne said. No one aboard was injured, and the City of Portland IV remains in service, although it will be used only for emergencies until the repairs are made.
The city’s second fireboat, the Cavallaro, will be used for most calls, said Nicole Clegg, the city’s spokeswoman.
LaMontagne would not say who was in charge of the City of Portland IV at the time of the accident, how many people were aboard or exactly where the accident happened. Usually, only two firefighters would be aboard for a training run, he said.
City officials said they don’t have an estimate of the cost to fix the damage, or of how long repairs might take. The boat is covered by an insurance policy that has a $25,000 deductible.
LaMontagne said every pilot of the boat — they aren’t called captains, to avoid confusion with department ranks — gets several hundred hours of training, monitored by a pilot who has completed the training.
A few are licensed by the Coast Guard to handle vessels with as much as 100 tons of displacement, but LaMontagne said the department doesn’t require that. He would not say whether the person who was operating the boat Saturday is licensed.
LaMontagne said the department is sensitive to criticism of how it operates the fireboat because of the accident in 2009. His investigation into that grounding showed the accident could have been prevented but the crew did nothing wrong.
“An incident like this, we take it very seriously,” he said of Saturday’s accident. “But we did not run aground. I don’t want people to think we beached the thing or something.”
The boat also was the source of criticism in 2009 when LaMontagne proposed spending $1.8 million to build new quarters on the Maine State Pier for its crew. The quarters were not built.
LaMontagne said the fireboat’s crew must train in the area around Fort Gorges because it’s a popular spot for boaters. The fireboat sometimes assists in rescues in Portland Harbor, so it’s important for pilots to know how to navigate through the area.
He said the investigation of Saturday’s accident will include a look at whether procedures adopted after the grounding — including using at least one of the boat’s three Global Positioning System screens to indicate its position relative to navigational aids — were followed.
The department also mandated that when the boat travels in a channel at night, all navigational aids are to be illuminated with a spotlight.
LaMontagne said the fire department notified the Coast Guard about the accident.
Lt. Nick Barrow at the Coast Guard station in South Portland said it did not appear that the city had to file a report, given the amount of damage, the absence of serious injuries, that the accident didn’t involve another boat or a grounding, and that the boat was able to return to port unaided.
“Generally, we like to know” about such incidents, Barrow said, and the Coast Guard will likely talk to city officials to determine whether there’s a hazard in that area that other boaters should know about.
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction: This story was updated at 11:02 a.m., Oct. 20, 2011, to correct the original purchase price of the fireboat. It was $3.2 million.