Published August 27. 2012 4:00AM
Norwich - Both the city's fire boat and the police boat were damaged recently in separate training incidents when they struck objects while maneuvering in the navigational channel in the Thames River, officials said.
No one was injured in the two incidents, but one firefighter was disciplined as a result of the incident, Fire Chief Kenneth Scandariato said, describing the action as "minor." He and Police Chief Louis Fusaro declined to identify the operators of the two boats.
City officials notified the U.S. Coast Guard and are considering hiring divers to inspect the navigational channel for possible debris, Fusaro said.
Both boats received propeller damage, and the two-year-old police boat also had hull damage. Repairs to the police boat were estimated at $19,355, and repairs to the 25-year-old fire boat cost $6,340, not including the cost of other unrelated repairs done while the boat was being serviced, said city Purchasing Agent William Block. The boats were repaired by Thayer's Marine & RV. The fire boat is back in service, while the police boat is still undergoing repairs.
Scandariato said the fire boat was damaged about a month ago during a routine daytime training session. The boat is taken out during every shift, day and night for training, he said.
He said the two-member crew was within the navigational channel, marked by buoys, and hit an unidentified object. The boat's two propellers were damaged. The fire boat, a 25-foot Boston whaler, was the city's original police boat, purchased in the 1980s when the Marina at American Wharf was developed.
Scandariato said "a thorough review" was conducted and the accident was investigated. Fire officials determined the location of the boat to be within the buoy markers, and the buoys were in the correct location. They checked navigational maps and asked each firefighter to write a report.
He declined to explain the nature of the discipline imposed on one of the crew, saying it was minor and would be expunged from his record after a year of no further incidents.
"We found that the buoys were in the right place, but with heavy recent rains, there could be debris we don't see," Scandariato said.
Scandariato said the fire department obtained new navigational maps, and ordered re-education of all personnel on handling of the boat and reading the maps.
The aging fire boat's sonar was not working at the time of the incident due to electrical problems, Scandariato said. However, that might not have contributed to the accident, because loose debris might not be detected, he said.
Scandariato and a battalion chief tested the boat when it returned to service and during their run found a large tree that was stuck in the sediment and also sticking up through the surface. They hauled it to the shallows.
Fusaro said the police boat's sonar was working during that boat's similar incident and also did not detect whatever object the boat struck.
Fusaro said the incident on the police boat, a 28-foot rigid inflatable boat, occurred about two weeks ago, when "one of our most seasoned and qualified boat operators" was training a new officer, Fusaro said. The experienced officer was pointing out the hazards in the narrow Thames River channel when the boat struck something.
He said police and fire officials later determined the incidents occurred about a quarter mile or more apart in the river.
The police boat also was in the navigational channel and "there was no indication of any policy violation, no evidence of any improper operations" with the handling of the boat, Fusaro said.
The police boat remains out of service, and Fusaro said if necessary, police would team up with the fire department and use that boat during an emergency. The fire boat was purchased for the city through a grant from the Howard T. Brown family, Fusaro said. At first, fire and police departments did share the boat, but they realized their needs differed. The fire boat is equipped with water guns that draw water from the river for fire suppression, foam-producing equipment for chemical fires, hooks and safety equipment and extra life preservers, Scandariato said.
Both chiefs said the incidents with their vessels provided proof that such rescue boats are needed and might be needed more often. City officials have embarked on a campaign to increase use of the harbor by recreational boaters and fishermen.
"Those are the kinds of things that can happen out there," Fusaro said. "It's fortunate that no one was hurt. That's why we have boats."
"We anticipate we're going to have more need for this," Scandariato said, "as the City Council puts more emphasis on developing the harbor. We support that. It's good for the city. We just have to be prepared."