S. S. Noronic Fire Worst Inland Marine Disaster in Century
Toronto Firemen Face Many Obstacles in Rescue and Extinguishing Operations
A SPECIAL REPORT TO FIRE ENGINEERING
Editor’s Note: The drama and tragedy of the S. S. Noronic holocaust have been told and retold by press and radio. As is so often the case, these accounts contained little or no mention of the vital role played by the fire department and other emergency services in the saving of life and property.
Fire protection engineers are fully conscious of the tragic aspects of every serious fire. By virtue of their very calling sudden tragedy is ever present at their elbow. But their calling requires that they concern themselves not so much with the human interest phases of the catastrophe, as with the factors behind the drama—the causes and effects, in terms of corrective methods and measures.
For this reason the editors of FIRE ENGINEERING have endeavored to give their readers the story behind the headlines, particularly the technical details of the fire fighting and rescue operations.
This could not be done without the help of the agency most qualified to provide that fundamental information— the Toronto Fire Department. Therefore, it is with a deep sense of obligation to Fire Chief Peter Herd, Deputy Chief Albert Steen and their aides of the department that we offer this account of the destruction of the S. S. Noronic. The only liberties taken with their report were necessary when, because of modesty, or for the sake of brevity, they played down their own accomplishments.
Special appreciation, also, is extended to FIRE ENGINEERING’S Toronto correspondent, J. K. Lee, whose on-the-scene account and illustrations have been most helpful.
IN the early hours of Saturday, September 17, 1949, fire raged through the S. S. Noronic of the Canadian Steamship Lines, resulting in the worst inland marine fire disaster since the burning of the S. S. Phoenix in Lake Michigan with a loss of 247 persons. Before the end of the month the toll of known fatalities had reached 136 with many unaccounted for and some injured still in hospitals.
As this is written Federal, civil and other investigations are being conducted to determine the cause of the fire, the reasons for its rapid spread, the delay in notifying the fire department and who or what agency if any, was responsible. The time worn charges of neglect, inefficiency, incompetency and panic on the part of ship’s officers and crew are being aired, together with counter charges that drinking and partying were rampant among the cruise passengers.
Only the Toronto Fire Department appears to have escaped the criticism of passengers, ship owners and crew alike. Reading the following account of operations of the fire department it is clear first, that the firemen faced a hopeless fight from the outset as a result of the delayed notification and other handicaps and, secondly, that they waged the uphill struggle with all the skill and energy at their command. Dreadful as was the disaster, it is appalling to conjecture what the loss of life might have been had the ship been far from shore and no trained, well organized municipal fire force available to aid in rescue and extinguishment as it was in Toronto.
Photo Courtesy J. K. Lee
While attention naturally centers upon the destruction of the ship and the dramatic efforts to save its hapless and helpless human cargo, another phase of the holocaust should not be overlooked. That is the fact that the fire department confined the conflagration to the Noronic itself, preventing extension of the roaring fire to two other vessels moored nearby, and the dockside structures, some of which were igniting in the radiated heat as the fire forces pulled in.
It is often difficult to visualize in its right perspective a fire of this magnitude. Such a fire involving property in a 380-foot block of structures at least five stories in height, would tax the resources of any modern metropolitan fire department, even without the terrific life hazard involved. Given just a few minutes earlier notice, the Toronto fire fighters would unquestionably have been able to carry their fight on the fire aboard the ship itself. What this would have meant in the way of rescue of personnel through protecting exits and restoring confidence to the frightened pasengers can only be conjectured.
The Noronic fire was controlled with a three alarm assignment of Toronto firemen, who sacrificed nothing of rescue work to the critical need of confining the blaze to the Noronic. That they were unable to carry the attack sooner on the fire aboard the ship herself must be charged to factors over which they had no control.
Prelude to Tragedy
The S. S. Noronic of the Canada Steamship Lines was making her last cruise of the summer. Her destination was Prescott, Ontario, and the Thousand Islands. Most of her passengers came from Detroit and Cleveland, and practically all the casualties were from the United States. According to a passenger list released by the steamship company on September 18, 187 persons had boarded the vessel at Detroit and 324 at Cleveland. The company reported a total of 524 passengers and a crew of 173. It was reported that a large percentage of the passengers were middle aged, or older.
From Cleveland the ship proceeded through the Welland Canal and across Lake Ontario to Toronto, where she docked at Pier 9, loot of Yonge St., at 6:00 P.M., September 17, with her bow facing toward the city. She was scheduled to depart at 7.:00 P.M. on the 18th.
The vessel, largest Canadian passenger liner on the Great Lakes, had somewhat of a tumultous career in later years. For a few days in 1946, she roamed the Detroit River as a ship without a port. Because of a seaman’s strike no harbor would accept her with a non-union crew. The Noronic docked at Detroit June 3, after a three-day battle with striking seamen in the Welland Canal, where the ship ran a blockade of strikers who smashed more than 100 portholes and windows. She finally found haven in Sarnia, Ont., her winter port. On August 15, 1943, the big vessel lost a propeller while on a cruise, and passengers had to return home on a chartered train.
Only the day before the holocaust a small stateroom fire was reported extinguished aboard the vessel. Witnesses also reported “trouble among the musicians” on the final cruise.
After docking at 6:00 P.M., many passengers went ashore to see the sights. Most of those who remained aboard gathered for a dance held later in the ballroom off the main salon. The dance ended about 2:00 A.M., by which time the majority of those who had gone ashore had returned to the vessel and retired.
The ship’s bars were closed at midnight but passengers could secure “setups” for their own liquor, as well as refreshments. After the dance a few parties continued in the social halls, lounge and in some of the cabins.
As was customary, only a skeleton crew was left aboard the ship after she docked1. A mate was reported in charge of the ship. The first mate was said to be asleep in his quarters, when the fire started. The chief steward was on duty and some cabin stewards and bell boys were reportedly serving the passengers. The Captain, William Taylor, 65. had gone ashore earlier in the evening.
Two other vessels of the line, the S.S. Kingston and S.S. Cayuga, were docked nearby (see Figure 1), the latter ship having only just completed a midnight cruise. Almost her entire crew was aboard.
Accounts differ as to whether or not there were any watchmen patrolling the vessel at that hour of the morning. Evidence on this score is contradictory. It has been said that, while at sea, regulation deck watch service was maintained, at dock the patrol was relaxed, particularly on the last cruise of the season. Testimony was given that persons were allowed to board and leave the ship without scrutiny or checkup. There were watchmen and security police on the pier, however, and they were said to have turned in the first alarm of fire.
1Reports of witnesses vary as to the size of this skeleton crew, also on the subject of watch officers and deck watch. Four ship’s firemen, a water tender and the third engineer were said to be in the fire room cleaning boilers and were notified of the fire by a stoker, who had gone to the dock for fresh air.
Photo Courtesy J. K. Lee
Thoto Courtesy Toronto Fire Dept.
Photo Courtesy Toronto Fire Dept.
Such was the situation at approximately 2:30 A.M. on the morning of Saturday, September 17, 1949.
Ship in Her 36th Year
The S.S. Noronic was built in Port Arthur, Ont., and launched on June 2, 1913. At this time she had three decks. Two were added shortly after at Lorain, Ohio, at which time the hull construction was modified. She was of Canadian registry, 6,905 tons gross—3,935 tons net. Her home port was Sarnia, Ont.
The six decks were: main, spar; promenade, observation, hurricane and boat. These were given alphabetical enumeration from the top down, viz.: “A,” “B,” “C,” etc.
The ship had an overall length of 385 feet; 363 feet between perpendiculars; 82 foot moulded beam and 28 feet, 9 inches moulded depth. She was built on the Isherwood system, with watertight compartments, but with no fire bulkheads or stops. The propelling power consisted of four Scotch coal-burning boilers, with 200 pounds working pressure, all connected with forced draft. There was also an auxiliary boiler. Propelling power was a vertical, four-cylinder, triple expansion engine, developing about 5,000 H.P.
According to William Craig, an inspector who conducted the ship’s last inspection on April 23 last, there were three main pumps and one smaller pump for fire protection. One hundred and fifty pounds pressure was required to operate all these pumps on the ship and one boiler was considered sufficient for the purpose. Each of the pumps was capable of supplying two streams of water to any part of the ship. In tests made at the time of the last inspection, six hose lines discharged water 125 feet “at the rate of 200 tons an hour,” Craig testified.
The inquiry developed the fact that the three fire pumps were fitted in the same space in the engine room although regulations required that they should not be in the same space. Asked why this was not reported, the witness said, “They were in good order and I don’t see any reason for separating them.”
Although a majority of the ship’s standpipe outlets had single openings, some of them had two. The outlets— 53 in number—were so placed that hose from at least one of them could reach any particular part of the ship. It was disclosed that the nearest standpipe outlet to the linen room, where the fire is said to have originated, was on D deck about 50 feet distant. This was a single outlet. A second outlet in the after-end of the ship was about 52 feet away but no one could say how a hose line from this outlet could be brought to bear on the linen closet. Ship’s officers are said to have ruled against coupling two lengths of standpipe hose for a single stream.
The Noronic, at the time of the final inspection, had 1,850 feet of 2-inch canvas hose; 1,500 feet of 2-inch hose of another type, and 800 feet of 1-inch hose, all in 50-foot lengths. The 1,850 feet of 2-inch hose was on deck, outside the cabins. The 800 feet was within the ship.
In addition to the fire extinguishers enumerated elsewhere, there were on board “miner’s safety appliance” equipment, according to regulations. This included breathing apparatus, helmets and safety lamps. There were also 72 fire buckets, more than the required amout.
The Stateroom Layout
The entrance hall, or lobby was on the main deck. The side walls were panelled in quartered oak with interlocking rubber tiling floors. The main stairway led to the social hall on the spar deck on which there were 151 staterooms with toilet rooms, bath rooms, barber shop, etc. The main corridors of the spar deck were finished in white enamel, with the social hall panelled in quartered oak.
The next deck was the promenade deck which was panelled throughout in mahogany. At the forward end was the drawing room, fitted with lounges upholstered in Spanish leather. Aft of the drawing room were ten suite cabins, furnished in mahogany. The smoking room was at the after end of this deck. Seventy ordinary staterooms were on this deck. There was a wide promenade extending completely around the vessel. The distance around was 880 feet or six laps to the mile.
The next deck was known as the observation deck, with observation room, dining room, kitchen, storerooms and refrigerating rooms. The observation room was situated at the forward end and was 140 feet long, panelled in quartered oak. The dining room measured 180 feet long by 50 feet wide and seated 286.
The boat deck, next above the observation deck, was finished throughout in quartered oak panels; a large dome skylight fitted overhead, extending the full length of the cabins. There were 48 staterooms on this deck, together with large public toilet rooms. The officers’ quarters and pilot house were located forward, and some of the crew’s quarters, mess rooms, recreation rooms and bakery were aft.
Doors to the ship’s cabins were wood and had snap-locks. It was reported some had slotted vents for air. The lower hold was divided into four cargo compartments, each provided with two hatches through the main deck. ’Tween decks had five gangways on each side in addition to the passengers’ gangway and engineers’ gangways.
There were no fire doors or bulkheads on any of the decks to prevent the lateral travel of fire. Howard R. Baxter, shore captain for the C.S.L., testifying at the Federal Inquiry, said that it would not have been practical to install new fire resistant bulkheads in the ship because it would have affected her stability and necessitated structural changes “that would have cost $250,000.”
The Noronic was the last of the former three-ship fleet of the Northern Navigation Company to be in service under its late owners, the Canada Steamship Lines. She was the only ship making the northern Great Lakes runs from Windsor-Detroit to Duluth. A sister ship, the Harmonic, burned in 1945 at Port Huron with one fatality.
The ship’s deck diagrams show that the second, or D deck, in later years, had a central passageway running the length of the ship. Off this corridor ran side passageways to port and starboard with six double bunk rooms to each hallway. Outside staterooms on the spar and promenade decks had windows amply large enough to permit passage of a normal person. These window type ports were covered wholly or partially by metal screens. A large “open well” was cut in the boat deck forward to give light into the promenade deck below.
Throughout the ship there were no directive signs in cabins as to boat and fire stations to be taken by passengers in an emergency, it was reported. According to Inspector William Craig, the ship had no red lights to indicate exits and stairs, and there was no public address system.
As indicated above, the interior construction and furnishings of the Noronic were for the most part flammable material, of a type common to vessels built in her day. Furthermore, the layout of corridors, passageways and large open areas was conducive to rapid fire travel.
Midships a large flight of stairs led up from the social hall of the spar deck to the social hall of the promenade deck (on which the fire is said to have started). Upholstered seats were arranged around these halls. The purser’s office was located on the port side of the spar deck’s hall.
Stairways fore and aft connected the spar and promenade decks; the after stairway also provided a vertical artery leading to the boat or top deck. These stairways had no doors or cut-offs and extended upward and downward as open oassageways. Further, they opened directly into the long midship passageway that bisected the vessel laterally, or else connected with transverse passageways.
A factor that is having attention is the question of the extent to which the reported numerous coats of paint and varnish on the ship’s interior had in spreading the fire. Until all the evidence is in, this question cannot be answered. The royal commission, investigating the disaster, has questioned Dr. C. Y. Hopkins of Ottawa, research chemist of the National Research Council and specialist in protective coatings, on this subject.
Fire Protection Facilities
The ship’s fire protection equipment included (in addition to the fire mains and hose and breathing equipment, previously mentioned) 56 first aid fire extinguishers; 10 of the vaporizing liquid type and 46 soda-acid and foam types.
There were no fire or smoke detecting or sprinkler systems covering the passenger area of the ship, it is reported.
Considerable emphasis was laid on the detail of automatic fire alarm systems at the royal commission hearings. The Noronic had a so-called “new” manual annunciator system which was operated by breaking the glass in an annunciator box, numbers of which were located throughout the vessel. When a glass was broken a warning signal was sent to the steward’s office, mates’ hallway and the engine room. On receipt of this signal the fire pumps were speeded up and the mate on the bridge was supposed to push an alarm button which sounded sirens throughout the ship, giving a general alarm. The ship’s whistle also was supposed to blow’ an alarm.
Inspector Craig testified that he had tested this alarm system by breaking the glass of boxes. He admitted that the type of box used was susceptible to accidental breaking.
Photo Courtesy Toronto Fire Dept.
Other witnesses testified to the apparent failure of the alarm system to function during the fire. Glass in annunciator boxes was broken by passengers and crew members, but many of the former swore to hearing no sirens or bells or whistles.
Confusion of Whistle Signals
Statements of witnesses are at conflict on the subject of the steamer alarm whistle. A majority of those who were in the ship at the outbreak of the fire testified to hearing no whistles at all, or until some time after they had escaped, and then they could not agree whether the signal heard was the Noronic’s whistle or that of a nearby vessel. Persons on the dock, however, and some crew members, testified to hearing steamer whistles. One witness placed the sound as a “tied down whistle”—sustained in volume. Another identified it as four warning blasts. Until all the evidence is in, however, this question must remain unsolved. The incident, does appear to indicate the need of some standard marine warning signals for ships in distress and of some uniform regulations pertaining to such signals.
One reason advanced for the possible failure of the ship’s alarm system is that, when at dock, the ship’s bridge is not always occupied at night, therefore no ship’s officer or seaman might have been available on the bridge or pilot house to blow the whistle or push the alarm button at the time of the fire.
Delayed Discovery and Alarm
It has not been determined at this writing who first discovered the fire or how long it had been burning before discovery. Reports indicate that passengers first found it and notified crewmen. That there was a serious delay in notifying the Toronto Fire Department of the fire has been established. Only the length of time of the delay remains in question. But whatever the period, the priceless minutes wasted were a telling handicap to the fire fighters and, in turn, a contributing factor in the heavy loss of life.
Just who or what caused the delay doubtless will never be revealed, but according to reliable witnesses speaking before municipal authorities there was an effort on the part of the ship’s skeleton crew to fight the fire with the ship’s own equipment “for a considerable time.”
A representative of the steamship company fixed the time of the fire at about 2:25 A.M. This witness believed the fire had been burning for as long as 15 minutes. Inasmuch as the department received its first notification at 2:38 A.M., this would indicate almost half an hour’s delay. Toronto’s Mayor McCallum said the fire started at 2:30 A.M. “and perhaps earlier,” and “the crew attempted to fight the fire themselves.” He said. “That has been confirmed by the fire department which found the ship’s fight fighting equipment on deck and fire cocks open when it got there.” This was also reported at hearings by Deputy Chief Steen.
It took the first-due units of the fire force not over three minutes to reach the pier from the Adelaide Station. This would place their arrival at close to 2:41 A.M. Yet by that time the fire could be seen at some distance, so much so that District Chief J. Stevens, responding on the first call, radioed for a second alarm while still en route. This was clocked bv the department at 2:41 A.M.
It has been determined that no one from the ship notified the fire department directly. The first notice was received by telephone from Pier 9. This was sent by a watchman. Dan Harper, who, with a fellow security officer, Andrew Church, had discovered smoke pouring from the port and starboard sides of C deck. According to Church, when they returned from telephoning the alarm, “the whole upper deck was a mass of flames.”
Unbelievably Rapid Spread
Although the fire was not of the flash type, its extension throughout the entire upper part of the long ship was almost beyond description. Smelling smoke and hearing a commotion, a passenger opened his door. One moment there was smoke in the passageway. Before he could catch up his clothes, fire was cutting off his escape.
Undoubtedly the opening of stateroom and cabin doors and the open windows and portholes gave impetus to the flames, which fed on the carpets and painted trim and combustible construction.
An Ohio woman testified that “the whole top of the ship was aflame before the fire department arrived” and added “I don’t see how they saved as many lives as they did.”
An Ohio insurance man, who aided in the first attempt to fight the fire in the linen closet, said, when a crew member (bell boy) armed with a small extinguisher opened the door of the locker, it looked dark. There was just a little flame, yellow in color. But, very soon after, while he tried to use a ship’s hose, he and the crewman were driven back, and he saw flames heading toward the stern. “They flowed around the corner like a stream of water,” he said.2
A party of four, playing cards in a room on the dock side of C deck, smelled smoke. There was a linen closet near this cabin and smoke was coming out of it and the cabin next to it. By the time one of the party had run forward to the purser’s desk and back, flames were involving C deck, aft, towards the bar.
Confusion—if Not Panic; Many Injured
The rapid extension of the fire, together with the refusal of some of the passengers to heed the warning cries and pounding on doors (several witnesses said they believed this was only some passengers having fun), caught many in their sleeping quarters. Numbers so trapped were suffocated, and burned to death. Some fled the flames in their night attire, many with garments afire.
Under these conditions, it was natural that there would be confusion—even panic. Yet there was no mass exodus or stampede. Many persons were confused in their attempts to find gangways; others headed for the lifeboats. Very few thought to don life preservers, feeling assured that they could escape to the dock. Thus, when forced to go overboard a number undoubtedly drowned. A number of passengers were lost in the effort to return to their quarters for their valuables or clothing. Others were caught as they vainly sought escape in the passageways and corridors. Many dead were found by the life boats.
2At the Federal hearing September 30 the bell boy, Garth O’Neil, changed his earlier testimony from seeing a “slight haze of smoke” when he went to fight the fire in the linen closet to say that the six-foot wall had been “all covered with fire.”
Although a number of pasengers made the boat deck and attempted to lower the ship’s lifeboats, only one of the 16 was swung over. This was done, according to some witnesses, by passengers unaided by the crew. This boat was lowered to the deck railing and filled with people. Half way down, in attempting to lower it further, the falls stuck and the boat reached the water’s edge half filled with water. All these passengers were rescued.
Some testimony of witnesses indicates that in certain instances there was intelligent action by crew members to maintain order and direct passengers to safety. A bellboy reportedly acted as traffic officer, directing people to exits. A ship’s officer in the bow aided and directed numbers of passengers down life lines and over fire department ladders.
Unfortunately, however, all of these lines except the hausers led to the Water —until a quick-witted rescuer managed to locate a raft from which many in the water were fished out and transferred over fire ladders to the pier, while others were able to slide the lines directly onto the raft.
In the frenzied effort to escape through windows and portholes many persons were badly cut by broken glass. According to witnesses, heavy metal screens over all or parts of many windows on upper decks prevented escape bv that route. Witnesses told of the effort to kick these screens out, together with the window glass. In a few cases passengers and crew members helped drag trapped victims through these openings to safety.
Many passengers received severe rope burns in their slides down lifelines and hausers.
The last two persons believed to have left the vessel alive were first mate Gerald Wood and Boatswain R. D. Morrison. They were taken off over aerial fire ladders from the upper deck.
How the Fire Was Fought
The first alarm of fire was received by the fire department via telephone at 2:38 A.M., September 17. This alarm was sent in by the Canadian Steamship Lines pier watchman from the C.S.L. Office on Pier No. 9.
This brought the following forces, from the Adelaide Street Fireball (142 Adelaide St., just west of York St.): 1 aerial ladder (100 foot); 1 rescue squad truck; 1 pumper; 1 hose truck; 1 high pressure unit and District Chief J. Stevens.
En route to the pier, Chief Stevens saw the ship ablaze and notified the Fire Alarm Office to transmit a second alarm on Box 6 (the Box located on Queens Quay—the nearest to the vessel). The three top decks of the ship were involved by the time the first forces pulled in. The only sign of life was on “B” deck bow and stern, where people were silhouetted against the flames. Some persons were jumping from the ship at this time.
The second alarm (Box 6) was transmitted at 2:41 A.M., bringing 4 pumpers; 1 aerial ladder (85 foot); 1 city service ladder: 1 fireboat; Chief of Department Peter Herd, Deputy Chief of Department Albert Steen and a district chief. The fireboat Charles Read, which is quartered at the Island approximately 1 1/2 miles distant across the bay from the Noronic, actually had started for the fire before the second alarm on orders from the Fire Alarm Office following notification from the fireboat’s station that its watchman could see a fire at the Queens Quay.
At 2:46 A.M., fire department radio was again employed to sound a third alarm, which set in motion 5 pumpers; 2 aerial ladders (one 75 and one 100 foot); 1 high pressure truck and a district chief.
Before this force were in action, the ship was afire from bow to stern and flames were leaping high in the air, threatening the exposed pier and structures.
Rescue Took Precedent
Although there was no delay in stretching in lines to get water on the fire, particularly at bow and stern where people were seen, every possible effort was made to speed the rescue of the unfortunates on the vessel and in the water.
No. 5’s aerial ladder, an 85-foot wooden model 18 years old, was run to within 75 feet of the bow of the Noronic and fully extended to the port bow of “B” deck, at an angle of about 25 degrees. In this position it bridged an iron fence, and extended over a part of the slip, to a point where a number of people were awaiting rescue.
At the moment the ladder tip touched the ship, a woman clambered onto it, followed by five or six men. Due to the motion of the ship and the whip of the ladder, under the weight of persons, the tip of the ladder could not be touched down to remain steadily on the bow of the ship. Half way down the ladder, the woman faltered and the men following behind her bunched up. At this juncture the ladder snapped at about the point where it bridged over the fence. All those on the ladder were hurled into the water, but they were all promptly rescued.
The 100-foot aerial of Ladder 1 (delivered in 1947) had difficulty in reaching the north side of the Quay due to presence of many parked cars. However, right after the mishap to Ladder 5, it was worked to within 90 feet of the bow of the Noronic and extended almost horizontally to “C” deck, at the bow. This metal ladder was braced with a short ground ladder about 15 feet from its base. By its means, firemen were able to reach this part of the ship and aid numerous passengers to the shore and safety. No hose lines were initially taken over this ladder due to the rescue efforts and the fact that heavy hose streams were being put into position to cover that section of the ship from other vantage points.
Photo Courtesy J. K. Lee
While Aerials 1 and 5 were engaged in rescue work, all pumpers and the fireboat were in action pouring water into and on the burning vessel. Lines were also laid to protect the exposures from the radiated heat. As it was, a portion of the pier caught fire several times and a sign 100 feet distant was blistered. One pumper was reported to have been caught by the radiated heat and damaged. It had to shut down temporarily until it could be moved.
Not only were the aerial ladders used for rescue, but firemen used wall or hand ladders, extended them from the pier into the Bay—holding them with a fellow fireman on the bottom of each, and in this manner assisted in rescuing scores of passengers who had jumped or fallen from the ship into the water. Other firemen employed the same method to rescue passengers at the stern of the ship. Here, also a number of marine taxi craft were of great assistance in picking up victims who were in the cold water. At times these boats, and the fireboat, were forced to back away from the searing heat of the burning vessel, but they quickly returned to the rescue.
The only effective means of getting water onto the ship from the waterside was from the fireboat. After arriving from her berth on the Island, the fireboat tied up to the port bow of the Noronic and delivered water into the Noronic at close range from a turret nozzle and two single hand lines. Later, just before the vessel listed and leaned toward the dock, Chief Herd ordered the boat to back away. However, still later, when the ship righted herself, the fireboat returned and worked down the port side, operating streams into portholes. The turret nozzle had 1 1/2-inch tip and the two 2 1/2-inch lines each had a 1 5/8-inch tip.
Early in the fire the steamers Kingston and Cayuga were both moved from their berths as a precautionary measure. Members of their crews joined in aiding the rescue work on the Noronic and in the adjacent waters.
The fire was under control two hours after the time of arrival of the fire forces, but firemen could not get aboard the super-heated hulk until 7:00 P.M. Almost the entire ship was white hot and all woodwork had been consumed and the metal work twisted and buckled.
All told, 20 pieces of apparatus, exclusive of public service trucks, fire department cars, etc., were in operation. These included the following:
10 Pumpers, 833 GPM (Imperial)
1 Hose wagon
2 High pressure trucks 1 Rescue squad truck
4 Aerial ladders (two 100; one 85, and one 75 foot)
1 City service ladder 1 Fireboat (1,000 GPM)
Total amount of hose used was 13,000 feet of 2 1/8-inch and 200 feet of 3-inch.
There were 115 firemen, including 8 officers, in operation; this number includes those who remained over to help remove the dead, after the shift changed at the scene at 8:00 A.M. Firemen worked all day the 18th, removing the bodies from the ship.
There was a total of 555 feet of ladders used and 91 salvage covers with an area of 13,104 sq. ft. The latter were employed to cover the bodies of victims as they were found and removed to waiting ambulances.
The department used 275 Imp. gallons of gasoline and 12 gallons of oil in the operations.
As is indicated on the accompanying diagram (Fig. 1) after all possible rescue efforts had been made, three aerial ladders were used as water towers to direct ladder streams upon the blazing ship. Approximately 15 hose streams were operated on the vessel from the pier.
The following recapitulation of hydrants and hose layouts may be of interest to those who desire these data.
Number of hydrants used, 6. Location of hydrants: 2 2-way Domestic, on C.S.L. Pier 9; 1 2-way, on Queens Way opposite No. 8 Pier; 1 2-way, on Bay St. 1st. north of Queen’s Quay; 1 2-way, at northwest corner Queen’s Quay and Yonge St., and 1 3-way, north side of Queen’s Quay between Bay and Yonge.
Approximate pressure available (hydrant) : average 85 lbs. Hose was 2 1/2-inch with 1 1/8-inch tips.
The number of Suction Lines employed was 6. Location of pumpers drafting; 3 on east side Pier No. 8;
1 on south side Queen’s Quay: 1 on south side Pier No. 9. The fireboat operated on the port side of Noronic. (Distance from east side of No. 8 Pier to port side of Noronic was 120 feet.)
Size of hose and nozzles used by pumpers: 2 1/2-inch hose, single lines, straight Underwriters’ branches (nozzles) 1 1/8-inch tips.
Size of hose used by fireboat: 2 1/2-inch turret nozzle, 1 1/2-inch tip and 2 single lines, straight 1 1/8-inch tip.
Total number of lines laid: 37. Gallons of water used (Imperial): 1,719,312.
The fire was “struck out” Sunday, Sept. 18 at 4:51 P. M.
Whole City Mobilized
As the gravity of the disaster became apparent, Toronto’s emergency forces, police, Red Cross, Salvation Army, first aid, utility and other forces, as well as the fire department, swung into action. Within an hour more than 1,000 firemen, police and volunteers were in the thick of the battle.
Chief Peter Herd was in command of rescue and fire fighting. Acting Chief Constable M. M. Mulholland directed the police. All available ambulances were dispatched to the scene and over a hundred taxicabs were mobilized: these, with private cars rushed the injured to the city’s hospitals. Many casualties received first aid on the pier.
In the early phases of the tragedy, as men, women and children jumped or were pushed over railings or struggled to work their way down mooring and life lines there were only a handful of firemen, some scattered crew members, boatmen, taxi drivers and police to perform rescue and get order out of chaos. Their efforts saved many lives. Life preservers, tin cans and lengths of wood were thrown out from shore. A number of rescuers were injured when they kicked in metal screens, window slatted blinds and glass to reach victims. Many more were saved by rafts, fore and aft, manned by dripping, half-naked police officers and volunteers. Water taxis went in close to the burning hull, picking people out of the water. Firemen smashed portholes and other openings to get to trapped passengers and get added reach to streams. Doctors, nurses and first aiders arrived as if by magic.
Photo Courtesy Toronto Fire Dept.
As the injured were sped to hospitals, the unhurt survivors were taken to hotels. The dead were removed to the city morgue. Later, when this proved inadequate for all the victims, the Horticultural Building at the Canadian National exposition was used for this purpose.
As the news spread, by daylight crowds of the curious jammed the area, but were controlled by extra details of police who also cleared the way for the numerous emergency vehicles transporting the injured and dead.
The telephone company’s switchboards were jammed with calls; fire, police departments, newspaper offices and other agencies were bombarded with inquiries and had difficulties getting through their own emergency messages.
The Salvation Army and the St. John Ambulance Brigade took on much of the burden of caring for the rescued, most of whom lost all their clothing and belongings. These agencies, with police, Red Cross and other services, handled the tragic details of identifying the dead and missing.
The Salvation Army workers were among the first on the quay, and first to go aboard the ship with firemen and police. They prepared the initial lists of survivors. A St. John’s staff of over 300 served for days following the catastrophe, providing clothing and otherwise aiding the survivors, who were almost unanimous in their praise for the prompt and efficient manner in which relief was provided.
Half an hour after the fire department had gone to work, members of Toronto’s Box 12 Club—the organization of the city’s fire buffs, were on the scene. For the first time since the fire department had given the Club its canteen truck, the members were able to put it to good use.
On the dock the buffs dished out 25 gallons of coffee as well as uncounted sandwiches, cigarettes and other refreshments to firemen, policemen, volunteer workers and survivors. The members of the organization remained at the scene from shortly after 3:00 A.M. until late Saturday afternoon. Of the thirteen members a few were out of the city, hut two, including the “Chief,” Arthur C. Fox, returned in time to do their stint.
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It is believed the actual death toll will never be known. On September 27th these figures were released: identified dead 94; total bodies recovered, 139; still unclaimed, 45. “The toll may reach 175,” reported the police.
Difficulties in arriving at accurate figures are caused by the loss of the ship’s passenger and crew records and the fact that so many passengers believed to have been aboard and reported as “missing,” may have hurried for their homes without reporting their survival. Further complication is the fact that a number of children in arms, known to have been aboard, were not listed. It was also revealed that there might have been visitors aboard the ship at the time of the fire whose presence was not recorded.
The steamship company released three different passenger lists on or before September 22, at which time the loss of life was set at 136. It admitted that no members of the crew had been lost. One figure placed the number of survivors at 567 and an estimated “more than 700 persons.” including crew, on the cruise, although available records showed only 699.
After the fire, the ruins of the ship were literally sifted for belongings including jewelry, and other clews that would help disclose the number of victims. Efforts to pump out the lower holds were unavailing, although divers reported no more bodies in those areas. Two bodies were found by divers in waters near the vessel and more were expected to be located when the hulk was removed.
The Noronic cost, new, about $1,000,000. Steamship company officials reported it would take $5,000,000 to $6,000,000 to replace the ship at today’s costs. The vessel is a total loss and will be junked. Meanwhile, it was said, insurance on the boat amounted to $1,000,000. There were conflicting reports issued on the question of personal liability coverage.