PORTLAND — New rules being issued today for the city’s fireboat will eliminate almost all rides by civilians aboard the City of Portland IV.

The Fire Department, which has been criticized for lax oversight on use of the boat, announced the new rules Tuesday night at a meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee.

The meeting focused on the department’s use of the fireboat and the city manager’s handling of the disclosure of an Oct. 15 accident aboard the City of Portland IV, which occurred while there were a dozen civilians aboard the boat – friends and family members invited by Capt. Christopher Goodall, one of two fire officials on board.

Goodall and firefighter Joseph Murphy were suspended without pay after the accident, in which the boat hit a submerged object while cruising outside the marked channel near Fort Gorges, causing nearly $40,000 in damage. Fire Chief Fred LaMontagne said his investigation showed the accident could have been avoided and that Goodall and Murphy failed to follow city procedures and Coast Guard rules.

They were not disciplined for having the large group of civilians aboard because the city had no policy against that.

The committee meeting Tuesday barely touched on the accident after a city lawyer said state law and union contracts bar the release of information on the incident because of the city’s disciplinary action.

The city will issue a full report after any appeals of the discipline are heard, a process that could take a year.

LaMontagne said his new rules, which take effect today, would still allow non-employee civilians to ride on the boat, but only if they are accompanying a patient being taken to the hospital. Otherwise, only city employees can ride on the boat under limited circumstances or if approved by the city manager.

“We clearly learned from this incident that we needed to tighten up that policy” on passengers, LaMontagne said.

City Manager Mark Rees said he plans to approve employee trips on the fireboat only in cases where it is the “most efficient and effective” mode of transport.

The rules also call for a complete log to be compiled, listing the names of fire officials and passengers, the reason and destination for the trip and the time of departure and return.

LaMontagne said his aim is to create a “policy of transparency and openness.”

Rees said the city is looking at the possibility of requiring those piloting the fireboat to get a Coast Guard captain’s license, which is required for most captains of commercial vessels. Currently, those who steer the fireboat are called pilots, and they earn that designation by training under current pilots for up to nine months, LaMontagne said.

He also said the contract with firefighters calls for assignments to the fireboat based on seniority, rather than marine experience or interest in serving in the unit.

Rees, meanwhile, said he didn’t disclose the accident to either the public or the council because of a failure of “common sense.”

He was informed by LaMontagne a few hours after the accident occurred. But no one beyond a small group of city employees knew until five days later, when it was disclosed after an inquiry by a reporter from The Portland Press Herald.

Rees said he has no “hard and fast” rules for disclosing incidents involving city property or vehicles. It would depend, he said, on the nature and magnitude of the accident.

“In this case, that analysis was not done appropriately,” he said, vowing to do better in the future.

The fireboat has been taken to Rockland for repairs that are expected to take two to three weeks. The city has an insurance policy that will cover the cost of repairs, except for a $25,000 deductible.

LaMontagne said sending three firefighters to pilot the boat to and from Rockland will add about $2,000 to the cost.

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