PORTLAND — The Portland Fire Department’s report on the accident involving its fireboat in 2011 says the crew steered across a channel, rather than down the middle, and went directly over a ledge and a wreck that were clearly identified by the $3.2 million boat’s electronic navigation aids.
The accident likely would have been avoided if the two firefighters aboard the City of Portland IV had picked up another trained pilot who was available on Peaks Island to go on the cruise around Casco Bay, the report says, or if the crew had simply paid more attention to the boat’s GPS chart plotters.
City officials released the report Friday afternoon, 11 days after a judge ordered them to provide it to the Portland Press Herald.
The city had denied a Freedom of Access request by the newspaper, which appealed to Cumberland County Superior Court. On June 24, Justice Thomas D. Warren told the city that it had to release the report but could withhold four pages that contain confidential personnel information. The city told the newspaper’s attorney Friday that it would not appeal the judge’s ruling.
The report was released to the newspaper and posted on the Fire Department’s website Friday. It provides new details about the accident but leaves many questions, including why the second pilot wasn’t picked up for the trip around the bay on Oct. 15, 2011.
The report also doesn’t mention that 12 civilian passengers were on the boat when it hit an underwater object, so it doesn’t explain why they were aboard and whether they interfered with the safe operation of the fireboat.
The only reference to them is on a Coast Guard accident report, included in the documentation released Friday, that says 14 people were on the boat.
City officials have yet to identify the passengers or say why they were aboard what they have called “a training run.”
The boat sustained more than $50,000 in damage and was taken out of service for three weeks.
The report, prepared by Deputy Fire Chief David Pendleton and completed two months after the accident, suggests that any of a handful of steps might have prevented the accident, which sheared off a shaft and damaged a propeller and rudder.
The report contains virtually no explanation for why the two firefighters operated the boat the way they did.
The report says the pilot, firefighter Joseph Murphy, was navigating visually and wasn’t using his chart plotter, a GPS system that indicates the boat’s position, the depth of the water and the location of any known wrecks.
Pendleton wrote that Murphy piloted the boat to the entrance of “the Destroyer Channel,” which runs on the back side of Fort Gorges, roughly parallel to the shores of Little Diamond and Great Diamond islands.
Instead of turning right to enter the channel, Murphy continued across the channel at 14 knots and quickly entered an area that “most navigators with local marine knowledge” are aware “is a dangerous area … (with) a long history of groundings,” the report says.
The report doesn’t say whether Pendleton asked, or Murphy said, why he was navigating visually instead of using electronic aids. The accident occurred around sunset.
Pendleton’s report also says Capt. Christopher Goodall, who hadn’t yet completed his pilot training, was monitoring his chart plotter and noticed that the fireboat was heading into shallower water. It says that Goodall’s monitor indicated the wreck of the schooner Windameen.
The report says Goodall “did not or did not have time to indicate this to Pilot Murphy,” but doesn’t say if Goodall was asked, or said, why he was unable to tell Murphy.
Most of the blame is assigned to Murphy, who Pendleton wrote exhibited a “lack of situational awareness.”
Pendleton ultimately concluded that Murphy went on “an inappropriate and unsafe course” and ran over a ledge and the wreck.
“The contact with one or both of these obstructions caused the damage to the port shaft, prop, strut and rudder,” Pendleton wrote.
A “conclusion” paragraph written by then-Chief Fred LaMontagne says he ordered a review of the Marine Division’s policies, issued a new policy restricting transportation of civilians on city fireboats, clarified reporting requirements with the Coast Guard, and promised to review the training and certification of Marine Division firefighters.
The city suspended Goodall and Murphy shortly after the accident, but the two appealed their discipline. An arbitrator reduced their suspensions and ordered Portland to repay the two more than $1,100 in back wages, with most of it going to Goodall.
The report released Friday includes a Coast Guard track of the City of Portland IV on the day of the accident, tide charts, a fire department staffing report and a copy of a staffing policy for the department’s Marine Division.
It also includes several poorly photocopied documents, including a two-page copy of a report on the accident filed with the Coast Guard. The only readable section indicates that the pilot did not have a Coast Guard license and the weather was clear and visibility good at the time of the accident.
A 10-line description of the accident is illegible, as is the name of the person who filled out the report.
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: