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 reviewed by The Portland Press Herald.

The records for 2010 show 547 “service runs” to ferry city employees to the Casco Bay islands or make other non-urgent trips, and 239 emergency runs for medical or fire calls.

The numbers reflect the total trips by all three vessels in the department’s marine unit – the 65-foot City of Portland IV, a $3.2 million fireboat that was 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. That boat sustained an estimated $38,000 worth of damage when it hit an underwater object off Fort Gorges on Oct. 15 while carrying 12 civilians on what the city has called a training exercise.

Records dating to January 2009 document non-emergency runs including:

An outing for a nursery school group in 2009.

A trip by journalists from The Boston Globe in February 2010.

A harbor cruise for Cub Scouts the next month.

A ride in July 2010 for the daughter and granddaughter of a former fire chief who died in 1999.

Three “charity harbor cruise” trips in July of this year.

The City Council’s annual island tour in August.

The new city manager’s trip to Fort Gorges on Sept. 16.

A “harbor cruise” for the fire chief and a software vendor on Oct. 13.

This week, City Manager Mark Rees 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 said he and LaMontagne are developing new policies for use of the fireboat that will be reviewed by the City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.

The fireboat hit 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. The boat headed to Rockland for repairs Wednesday morning and will be out of commission for at least the rest of this week.

LaMontagne found in an investigation that the accident could have been avoided and that the crew – Firefighter Joseph Murphy and Capt. Christopher Goodall – failed to follow proper procedures and Coast Guard regulations. The investigation also showed that 12 civilians, including some of Goodall’s relatives, were with the crew.

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

Records show that most of the non-emergency trips made by the marine unit are to take firefighters, police or other city employees to the islands that are part of Portland.

City spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said employees use the fireboat, instead of the ferries that run to the islands, if they have to transport large objects or equipment, or if the ferry schedule doesn’t allow for efficient use of their time.

But a few of the trips apparently are non-official, such as LaMontagne’s trip on the fireboat 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.

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

He 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 worked on the fire department project.

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

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

Rees said some of those cruises are warranted, such as trips that have taken U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, 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 non-emergency trips that are “public service runs,” Rees said.

“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 charities. The log indicates that trips for charity were made on July 1, July 23 and July 24, the day before the fireboat was used for a cruise by two dozen visitors from Shinegawa, Portland’s sister city in 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 groups said Wednesday that 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 have been redeemed.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]