Fire boat damaged in Maine rescue
By David Hench
The Portland Press Herald
PORTLAND, Maine — A marine surveyor will continue inspecting the city's new fireboat today to determine the cost and duration of repairs after the boat hit a submerged ledge during a rescue mission Saturday night.
''We're hoping to have it back within a month. It's a high priority for us,'' Fire Chief Fred LaMontagne said Monday.
In the meantime, Portland's retired fireboat — which the city intends to sell soon — has been pressed into service.
LaMontagne couldn't provide a cost estimate for repairing the 65-foot City of Portland IV. He said the $3.2 million boat is insured, but the city has a $25,000 deductible.
The boat, which the city put into service two months ago, was up on jack stands Monday at Gowen Marine on Commercial Street. The damage to its left propeller, shaft and rudder was clearly visible. Shiny metal scars showed where the keel had bounced along the ledge before the left prop and rudder hit.
The impact pushed the 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 accident occurred as the fireboat's crew responded to an emergency medical call on Jewell Island, Portland's outermost island, which takes 45 to 60 minutes to reach by fireboat.
Firefighters left the dock about 4:30 p.m. Saturday to assist a 62-year-old man who had fallen into the water off Jewell Island and was getting hypothermic after 30 to 45 minutes in the water, rescue personnel said.
Details were sketchy about how the man, who was with his wife, came to be on the uninhabited island.
Initial reports described him as a hunter who had rolled his kayak. But a supervisor with the Maine Marine Patrol, which ultimately got the couple off the island, said he was told that the couple fell out of a canoe, got to shore and started a fire.
Rescue workers had trouble finding the pair before locating them, using searchlights, on a rocky outcropping along the island's eastern shore.
Two firefighters in a 20-foot aluminum skiff got close to the island, but had to jump into waist-deep water to get to shore.
They secured the skiff and treated the man. In the meantime, a 25-foot Coast Guard rescue boat landed at a different spot.
About 45 minutes later, the skiff and the rescue boat were stranded on rocks by the outgoing tide.
The City of Portland, with two crew members on board, headed back toward the city to get more people and equipment in case the man's condition worsened and he had to be removed from the island.
The boat was heading into the channel between Peaks and Cushing islands, with its crew using instruments to navigate in the dark, when it ran aground about 6:30 p.m., LaMontagne said.
''That area is very well known for its ledge outcroppings,'' he said, although it is supposed to be navigable even at low tide.
LaMontagne said an astronomical low tide meant the water was shallower than normal and dropping rapidly. The new boat can float in about 4 feet of water, compared with about 7 feet for the old boat, firefighters said. Swells can affect the depth of the water at a given moment.
Once the boat hit the ledge, the firefighters on board shut down the engines and donned survival suits as required, LaMontagne said.
The hole in the hull was letting water into a compartment beneath the boat's swim platform, sealed off from the rest of the boat. The crew began pumping the water out of the compartment.
The Cavallaro, which the Fire Department typically uses for medical calls to the inhabited islands, towed the fireboat back to shore.
The Maine Marine Patrol got the couple off the island by motoring into Cocktail Cove, on the landward side of the island, and hiking to the opposite side to retrieve them.
The man did not need hospitalization. He and his wife were dropped off at a marina and went home.
LaMontagne said the last time the city's fireboat suffered damage from hitting bottom was about 15 years ago.
He said crews will eventually retrace the precise course of the fireboat, as much as possible, to locate any navigational hazards.
''We want to find out what it was'' that the boat hit, he said.
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