Arbitrator Dubs Fire Boat Maritime Crash An Accident, Reduces Firefighter Penalties

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Maritime accident lawyers are often needed to defend injured persons hurt at sea or in port. Many of these types of accidents are caused by someone’s wrongdoing or negligence, and when this is suspected, those responsible for the incidents may be held liable for their actions and for the damage caused. However, two firefighters who had been involved in a 2011 Portland fire boat incident were recently relieved of fault. An arbitrator found that the firefighters committed no wrong-doing and the incident was dubbed an accident.

The Arbitrator’s report was released publicly on Tuesday. And while some responsibility for the accident lies with the two firefighters, the administrative suspension they had been place on in October 2011 was reduced.

Arbitrator Gary Altman was appointed to handle the case between the City of Portland and the International Association of Firefighter Local 740, on behalf of Capt. Christopher Goodall and firefighter Joseph Murphy. He addressed the suspension of the two firemen associated with the incident and wrote the following: “I find that the events that occurred on October 15, 2011 to be a result of an accident and the ensuing damages to be unintentional.”

The incident in question took place after the fire boat left the pier. Murphy was operating the vessel and Goodall was in command. Additionally, 12 family members and guests were onboard the boat. Just before 6 p.m., the vessel navigated out of the “Destroyer Channel,” according to the arbitrator’s report, and entered an area near Fort Gorges with shallow water and marked obstructions. The boat then crashed, sustaining over $50,000 worth in damage. Goodall was suspended for 10 days without pay while Murphy was suspended for three days without pay.

While the arbitrator’s report noted that some responsibility for the accident laid with Goodall and Murphy, they were not entirely to blame.

“As Engineer, he [Goodall] should have alerted the pilot as to possible hazards and, as lookout, should have been more aware of his surroundings,” wrote Altman. “… Marine 1 should have not left the Destroyer Channel, and once having done so, it was incumbent upon FF/Pilot Murphy to pilot the vessel around marked hazards in a safe manner. FF/Pilot did not do so.”

Because neither firefighter had previously been disciplined for any wrongdoing and because the rules regarding the fire boat’s use needed to be clarified, Altman reduced Goodall’s suspension to 48 hours and Murphy’s to 12 hours.

Following the maritime accident, the Fire Department updated its fire boat safety policies to include restricting civilian personnel as well as adding protocols for extra staff on board. Altman noted in his report that the Fire Department had taken steps to prevent the possibility of similar accidents in the future. The newly hired Fire Chief, Jerome LaMoria, issued the following statement in a press release regarding the matter.

“With a final decision now rendered, I look forward to putting this matter behind the Department and the city,” said LaMoria. “As emergency responders, Portland firefighters hold a unique place within the community and it is paramount that we preserve the public’s confidence and trust. The community should be assured that we took quick action to address this matter and implemented changes so that an event like this cannot happen again.”