PORTLAND, Maine — When Portland firefighters arrived at Maine Yacht Center on Monday afternoon, they came upon a group of divers working to resuscitate a man they later discovered was one of their own.
“Members of the fire department worked on the victim tirelessly and it was determined that he was a member of our department,” said Portland Fire Department Chief Jerome LaMoria.
What led to the death of 21-year fire department veteran Capt. Michael Kucsma, 43, around 3:45 p.m. Monday remains under investigation. Police Chief Michael Sauschuk said during a news conference Tuesday that no foul play is suspected.
“He was on a recreational dive when something catastrophic happened,” LaMoria said. “This is a very tragic event.”
LaMoria said that Kucsma was an “avid diver” who was with a group of seven other divers that were in the area of Tukey’s Bridge, spanning the entry to the city’s Back Cove. At Meetup.com, a dive at Tukey’s Bridge with six participants was organized for Monday afternoon at 1:30 p.m., leaving from the Maine Divers Scuba Center in Portland.
A store representative declined to comment when contacted by phone by the Bangor Daily News.
Sauschuk said when the rest of the diving party surfaced, members determined that Kucsma was missing and they proceeded to search for him. He could not say how long the group had been diving before Kucsma was found and pulled unconscious from the water near 100 Kensington St. in Portland.
John Brooks, president of the firefighters’ union Local 740 and a colleague who worked on the same shift for years, mourned Kucsma’s death Tuesday.
“We lost a dear friend and a colleague yesterday,” said Brooks, who had fought fires in Portland alongside Kucsma. “He was someone you could trust to do the right thing as a friend and as a firefighter … to know him was a good thing and to lose him is awful.”
Brooks said Kucsma, who was promoted to captain in 2006, “still had a long way to go” with his career. He was in charge of Engine 6 at the Portland Fire Department’s Bramhall Fire Station in the West End.
Kucsma had started his career in 1991 at the Gorham Fire Department’s then newly created live-in program for student firefighters, according to Gorham Fire Chief Robert Lefebvre.
“He was with us through three years of college and when he got done with the live-in program he stayed and worked his way up through the ranks,” Lefebvre said. “He made deputy chief in May 2002.”
He was then hired in a neighboring town before joining the Portland department, but Lefebvre kept Kucsma on as a training office for his department of 110 personnel.
“He was just a great, great guy,” he said. “It leaves a huge, huge hole in my administration. It’s going to be difficult to fill.”
Lefebvre said he called all of his firefighters to the station Monday night to tell them about Kucsma’s death. Community, family and friends have reached out to him and his firefighters since hearing the news.
“It’s friggin’ crazy. He was only 43,” Lefebvre said.
Kucsma is survived by his wife, mother and father, authorities said. LaMoria said the department is working with the family on details regarding a memorial service for Kucsma.
BDN writer Nok-Noi Ricker contributed to this report.