PORTLAND – A fire captain and a firefighter have been suspended without pay for an accident on the city fireboat last weekend that caused $38,000 worth of damage.

City officials who investigated the accident found it could have been avoided and that the two firefighters had 12 civilians, including family members, aboard the City of Portland IV during what was called a training exercise.

The boat hit an underwater object outside the ship channel on the north side of Fort Gorges, according to preliminary findings of a separate Coast Guard investigation. The impact sheared off one of the boat’s two propeller shafts, and a propeller and the rudder were damaged, but the boat was able to return to Portland without aid.

After a Fire Department investigation, Chief Fred LaMontagne found that the accident just before sunset on Oct. 15 was preventable and suspended Firefighter Joseph Murphy and Capt. Christopher Goodall, members of the department’s marine division, according to a statement released by the city Friday afternoon.

Murphy, who was piloting the $3.2 million boat when the accident occurred, was suspended for three days. Goodall was suspended for 10 days.

Nicole Clegg, the city’s spokeswoman, would not say why there was a difference in the suspensions. She also refused to release LaMontagne’s investigative report, saying state law and the city’s contract with the union bar it.

Alan Graves, a former yacht captain, said the area north of Fort Gorges is well known as a particularly rocky section of Casco Bay, which is why the fort was built there.

“It’s a bony place where you do not go,” Graves said. “You stay in the middle of the channel.”

According to the city’s statement, Murphy and Goodall “failed to comply with common practices and U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Rules to ensure the safe operation of the vessel.”

Coast Guard Lt. Nick Barrow said he assumes the statement referred to the Coast Guard’s general “rules of the road,” although city officials did not consult him regarding the violations.

He said the rules would include having someone on “alert watch” to keep track of water depths, other boats and potential hazards.

The Coast Guard is doing its own investigation of the accident. An inspector met with city officials Friday to gather information, Barrow said, including location data from an automated reporting system linked to the boat’s Global Positioning System.

The Fire Department did not initially report the accident, as required, to the Coast Guard, which learned of it Wednesday when contacted by a reporter from The Portland Press Herald.

LaMontagne said he was told of the accident soon after it occurred. Clegg said City Manager Mark Rees also was informed that night.

“We made an assumption that we did not need to notify (the Coast Guard),” Clegg said. “That was a mistake.”

Barrow said the Coast Guard’s investigation, which still hasn’t determined what the boat hit, is concerned primarily with preventing future accidents. He noted the accident occurred near where the Wendameen, a schooner that offers harbor trips to tourists, hit a charted wreck in June.

Barrow would not say whether the Coast Guard is pursuing disciplinary action, for the accident or the failure to report it, although he did say a penalty is unlikely.

Fireboat pilots get several hundred hours of training, LaMontagne said this week. He did not return calls Friday after releasing the statement about the suspensions.

The department developed new procedures for the fireboat after the City of Portland IV ran aground in November 2009, sustaining $90,000 worth of damage just two months after it was put into service to replace the 50-year-old City of Portland III.

In response to the latest accident, the department is reviewing its practices and policies regarding the fireboat’s transportation of civilians, who are allowed aboard under certain circumstances, the city said.

LaMontagne said Wednesday that those circumstances include transporting city employees to the islands and taking dignitaries onto the water for official city events.

But some waterfront observers say trips with civilians that don’t fall into either category are not unusual.

“I personally have witnessed wives, girlfriends and children on the fireboat and they go on weekend jaunts,” said Mark Usinger, who runs A.L. Griffin Ship Chandlers and regularly takes his boat past the fireboat. “They never go out on bad days — it’s a joke around the waterfront.”

Usinger said the city’s assertion that last weekend’s trip was for training doesn’t square with having 12 others aboard.

“If you have 12 people on board, you’re not out there for a training exercise,” he said. “It’s for fun.”

Clegg said late Friday that city and department officials are not told when firefighters take civilians out on the fireboat, and no record is kept of who goes aboard.

She also said the firefighters determine when and where to make training trips — again without informing department officials — and usually take the boat out if they haven’t had to make a fire or rescue run during the day.

“They’re out almost daily, especially if there’s been a transfer into the division and someone’s working to increase their hours” to become a pilot, she said.

LaMontagne said last weekend’s trip was for navigation training, and Clegg said firefighters use those trips to work on “identifying markers and buoys” and to learn more about the layout of the bay.

Clegg said the city considers Murphy a pilot. He has spent dozens of hours at the helm under the watch of a pilot. Neither Murphy nor Goodall holds any Coast Guard licenses, which aren’t required to operate the fireboat, she said.

The city’s two fireboats respond to emergencies on the city’s islands and in Casco Bay. They frequently ferry island residents who need emergency medical treatment to the mainland. The second boat, the Cavallaro, is faster than the City of Portland IV and is used for swift transport.

Clegg said this week that the Cavallaro will be used for most calls while the City of Portland IV is being repaired.

The city plans to take the boat to Rockland for repairs in the next few days. Clegg said repairs should take two or three days.

The damage estimate of $38,000 was released Friday. The fireboat is covered by an insurance policy that has $25,000 deductible.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: [email protected]

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]