South Portland Fire Chief Kevin Guimond was having dinner at home Monday night when he got a call from his friend and fellow chief Jim Dittmeier of Searsport. A fire had broken out at one of the tanks at the Irving Oil Terminal.

Dittmeier wanted to know if Guimond could mobilize his department’s foam-filled trailer, one of only four of its kind in the state. Guimond also has specialized training for oil tank emergencies, given the fact that South Portland is home to seven terminals and 156 tanks.

“I said, is it still on fire?” Guimond said of the conversation. “He said yep, and I told him I was on my way.”

Within a few minutes, Guimond was headed north with Tom Hardison, who directs operations at Portland Pipe Line’s oil terminal near Spring Point. Behind them, four South Portland firefighters were riding toward Searsport with the trailer loaded with foam. A second trailer was ready to go in case more foam was needed.

It was the first time that South Portland had been called on to assist with an oil tank emergency in another part of the state – in this case about 110 miles up the coast, in Waldo County.

“The mutual aid system really works well in the state of Maine. We’re willing to go anywhere to help people,” Guimond said.

“Obviously, South Portland is a large petroleum facility. We are pretty well-trained to handle this type of thing,” he said.

Guimond and several other firefighters have been trained at Texas A&M University. All of the city’s trucks are equipped with foam inductors – features that few trucks have in other departments.

As it turned out in Searsport, firefighters from several departments got the tank fire under control while the South Portland crew was en route. Guimond sent the foam trailer back to South Portland, while he and Hardison continued on to Searsport, in case their expertise was needed.

The fire started Monday afternoon in an empty heating oil tank as welders did routine maintenance. Guimond said some slag fell and ignited the rubber membrane that lines the tank’s floating roof.

Crews from Searsport, Belfast, Bucksport, Morrill, Northport, Prospect and Stockton Springs responded to the fire.

Searsport, South Portland and Aroostook County Emergency Management are the only agencies in the state that have specialized foam trailers.

“Kevin has a couple down there. I have one in my firehouse,” said Dittmeier, the Searsport fire chief. “That was the reason I called him.”

Dittmeier said he used most of the foam that was in Searsmont’s trailer, and was glad to know that backup was on the way if he needed it. He said the mutual aid agreement worked the way it is supposed to work.

Guimond said it was a good learning experience for him. Every day, crews from the South Portland Fire Department inspect the city’s oil terminals and any tankers that are in port.

The last fire at a terminal in South Portland happened about eight years ago, when a welder accidentally ignited some insulation, Guimond said. That fire was quickly extinguished.


Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at: [email protected]