Raoul Gauthier Killed at Fire
Chief of Montreal Fire Department and Three Firemen Killed by Second Explosion on Tanker Being Repaired in Drydock
RAOUL GAUTHIER, head of the Montreal Fire Department, and Director of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, was killed by an explosion, the second of a series that destroyed the tanker S. S. Cymbeline which was lying in the drydock of the Canadian Vickers Company. The casualty list also includes three firemen and twenty-three riveters. It was these workers, trapped in the hold of the ship after the first explosion, that the Fire Department were trying to rescue.
For four weeks the boat had been in the process of repair. Nearly a hundred plates had been re-riveted during that period to repair damage done to the ship when it went aground. Four plates remained to be placed at the stern of the boat. All of the oil tanks had been flushed, cleaned and left open for the escape of gas that might have accumulated.
The first explosion took place at 3 a. m., June 17. Within a few minutes the entire hold of the ship was afire and it was impossible to reach the spot where the workmen were trapped. An alarm was given at the plant and the industrial brigade connected hose lines but the water pressure was insufficient to check the flames that were then visible at the portholes. The Montreal Fire Department was called immediately, and Chief Gauthier, who realized the seriousness of the call, responded with the first companies. A call was sent in for additional apparatus.
All connections to the ship had been broken by the first blast, and there was no means of getting on the craft. A boat’s crew from another vessel which was coaling on the opposite side of the basin, took off the men who were caught on the deck of the tanker.
Chief Gauthier was on the catwalk of a section of the dry dock with some of his men, directing the streams of water that were being played on the burning vessel. Just what took place when the second explosion occurred has not been clearly pieced together. Some say the second explosion took place on the ship while others claim that it was in the tanks of the dry dock itself. About fifty yards of the steel plated inner side of the dry dock, weighing many tons was blown up in the air and crashed down about forty yards to one side, partly on the wharf and partly on the dock. The outer sheath of the dock flew up like a piece of paper.
Grease and oil that had accumulated for years on the upper part of the dry dock, were soon abaze.
Firemen rushed to reach the bodies of their comrades who were injured or killed by the blast. Chief Gauthier had disappeared although his helmet was lying on the wharf.
Flames broke out with greater intensity and by five o’clock flames were shooting out of the top of the bridge and the tanker was ablaze from side to side in the center.
Four days after the explosion, June 21 at 5:30 a. m., the boly of Chief Gauthier floated to the surface. It was discovered at a point near where the Chief had disappeared—between the wall of the dry dock and the pier. When found, the Chief’s body was fully clothed, except for his helmet, which had been picked up Friday and served as indication that the Chief had perished.
According to a later medical examination at the Coroner’s Court, the Chief died from submersion. Indications are that he was knocked unconscious by the explosion and that his heavy clothing with rubber coat and boots, carried him to the bottom of the basin while heavy timbers closed in over him.
Chief Gauthier joined the department on December 22, 1903, and in 1912 was given the rank of Captain. Nine years later he was appointed District Chief for the western section and on July 12, 1923 was Chief of the department. He was given the title Director of the Fire Department in 1928.
During the years that he had served in the Fire Department he was cited several times for bravery. He was one of the firemen decorated with a special medal for bravery shown at a fire in 1910. In 1916 when he was captain he was decorated for saving the lives of a couple overcome by smoke on the fourth floor of a building. Even back in 1905 when he was a fireman for slightly over a year, he saved the lives of five persons employed at a tailoring shop.
About 200,000 persons lined the main streets of Montreal on Wednesday through which the funeral procession was to pass to pay their last respects to the Chief and the firemen who lost their lives. The funeral cortege passed from Fire Headquarters to the St. James Cathedral, and thence to the cemetery where services were conducted by Father Oscar Valiquette, Chaplain of the Fire Department. The cortege required one hour to pass.
Ten autos were filled with floral tributes. One floral piece was in the form of a fire alarm box of red carnations bearing the words, “Fire Alarm. Last Call. Box 8121.” This was the box from which the fire alarm came in.
Everywhere flags were at half mast. A large part of Bleury Street was a solid mass of humanity. Men and women stood twenty deep at the curb.
Floral tributes were sent by the New England Association of Fire Chiefs, D. W. Brosnan, President, International Association of Fire Chiefs, and Headquarters Office of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
Director Gauthier is survived by his widow, two sons, and three brothers.