January 17, 2013

Files reveal cost discrepancy in Portland fireboat's 2009 crash

The city said that repairs from the crash in November 2009 cost about $90,000, but invoices show it cost about $170,000.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – The first of two accidents involving Portland's three-year-old fireboat cost nearly twice as much as previously reported by the city, according to documents provided this week in response to a Freedom of Access Act request.

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The first of two accidents involving Portland's three-year-old fireboat cost nearly twice as much as previously reported by the city, according to documents acquired via a Freedom of Access Act request.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

Related Documents

PDF: Fireboat invoices

The city said that repairs from the accident in November 2009 cost about $90,000, but invoices and a work order released by the city add up to about $170,000.

City officials have so far not explained the discrepancy.

The accident occurred while the fireboat's crew was responding to an emergency at Jewel Island.

Other documents released this week shed new light on the boat's second accident, in October of 2011.

The boat hit a submerged object while carrying two firefighters and a dozen friends and family members of one of them on a trip around Portland Harbor.

Invoices confirm the city's reports that those repairs cost about $54,000.

This week, the city released its initial accident report to the Coast Guard, showing that the fireboat was traveling at 14 knots two hours before low tide when it left a navigation channel and entered an area with known hazards, including submerged ledges and a shipwreck.

The city also provided new policies about the use of the fireboat, including one that says any transportation of civilians in non-emergency situations is subject to approval by the fire chief.

Despite the disclosures this week, the city has not released the results of its internal investigation into the second accident. That report was expected to be made public, and could answer additional questions.

City officials say the document must remain private as a personnel matter.

City officials, including City Manager Mark Rees and Fire Chief Jerome LaMoria, have expressed a desire to put the incident behind the city.

But City Councilor Edward Suslovic, who chairs the council's Public Safety, Health and Human Services Committee, said city officials should have released details sooner.

"You don't play the reluctant witness" if you want to restore public trust and confidence, Suslovic said.

Suslovic said he would like to know why the crew was distracted from safely navigating the city's $3.2 million fireboat, but conceded that the city is likely prohibited from releasing that information.

The documents provided to the Portland Press Herald raise new questions about the cost of the accident on Nov. 7, 2009.

In service for only two months, the City of Portland IV hit a rock in Whitehead Passage. At the time, Portland firefighters, the Coast Guard and the Maine Marine Patrol were working to rescue a couple off Jewel Island, after an elderly duck hunter fell in the water.

The impact of that accident pushed the boat's rudder into the hull, punching a hole slightly larger than a softball, and cut two crescents into one of the propeller blades. The supports that hold the propeller to the hull ripped free.

The city originally said the repairs cost $90,000. But the Press Herald reviewed nearly 30 invoices and a purchase order, dated Nov. 9, 2009 to April 8, 2010, involving 11 companies that provided parts or service for the fireboat repairs.

The paper found that the actual cost was about $173,000 -- nearly twice the amount disclosed by the city.

The Press Herald first asked the city to review the figures and explain the discrepancy on Tuesday.

Spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said Tuesday that she was hampered by the turnover of personnel in the fire department. "The people with firsthand accounts aren't here anymore, which makes it difficult," she said.

City Manager Mark Rees said in an email Wednesday that the city staff would not have a response until the end of the week because of its regular workload.

(Continued on page 2)

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