Friday, July 23, 2010

Halifax Explosion
The Halifax Explosion occurred on Thursday, December 6, 1917, when the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, was devastated by the huge detonation of the SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship, fully loaded with wartime explosives, which accidentally collided with the Norwegian SS Imo in "The Narrows" section of the Halifax Harbour. About 2,000 people were killed by debris, fires, or collapsed buildings and it is estimated that over 9,000 people were injured.This is still the world's largest man-made accidental explosion.
Human loss and destruction

LocationHalifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
DateDecember 6, 1917
9:04:35 (AST)
Attack typeShip collision and explosion
Death(s)2,000 (approximate) {1,950 known}
Injured9,000 (approximate)

Communism Affected

While the city of Halifax's North End neighborhood of Richmond suffered the most damage from the explosion, several neighbouring communities and settlements were also affected by the blast.
  1. Dartmouth

  2. Mi'kmaq settlement

  3. Africville

Heroism and rescue efforts

Many individuals, groups and organizations contributed to the rescue and relief in the days, months, and years following the disaster. Specific acts of heroism and bravery by individuals are detailed below.

Vince Coleman (train dispatcher)

The death toll could have been worse if not for the self-sacrifice of an Intercolonial Railway dispatcher, P. Vincent (Vince) Coleman, operating at the Richmond Railway Yards. He and his co-worker learned of the danger from the burning Mont-Blanc from a sailor and began to flee. Coleman remembered, however, that an incoming passenger train from Saint John, New Brunswick was due to arrive at the rail yard within minutes, and he returned to his post to send out urgent telegraph messages to stop the train.

“ Stop trains. Munitions ship on fire. Approaching Pier 6. Goodbye. ”

Coleman's message brought all incoming trains to a halt and was heard by other stations all along the Intercolonial Railway helping railway officials to respond immediately.[19] The Saint John train is believed to have heeded the warning and stopped a safe distance from the blast at Rockingham, saving the lives of about 300 railway passengers. The rescued train was later used to carry injured and homeless survivors to Truro, Nova Scotia. Coleman was killed at his post as the explosion ripped through the city. He is honoured as a hero and fixture in Canadian history, notably being featured in a "Heritage Minute" one-minute movie and a display at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

Tug Stella Maris

Towing a string of barges at the time of the collision, the Tug Stella Maris responded immediately to the fire, anchoring its barges and steaming beside the flaming Mont Blanc. The tug's crew began spraying Mont Blanc with their fire hose and were preparing to tow the burning ship away from the city when Mont Blanc exploded. The blast killed 19 of the crew aboard Stella Maris although five miraculously survived when the smashed tug was washed up on the Richmond shore.

Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency

Firemen were among the first to respond to the disaster, rushing to Mont-Blanc to attempt to extinguish the blaze before the explosion even occurred. They also played an instrumental role in regaining control of the devastated city after the blast, with members arriving to assist from across Halifax, and by the end of the day from as far away as Springhill (180 kilometres / 110 miles), Amherst, Nova Scotia (200 kilometres / 120 miles), and Moncton, New Brunswick (260 kilometres / 160 miles), via relief trains.

Halifax's Fire Department at the time comprised 8 fire stations, 122 members (36 of whom were fully employed), 13 apparatus (1 of which was motorized), and roughly 30 horses. West Street's Station 2 was the first to arrive at pier 6 with the crew of the American LaFrance-built Patricia, the first motorized fire engine in Canada.

They were responding to Box 83, the dockyard alarm at the corner of Roome Street and Campbell Road (now Barrington Street), as Mont-Blanc drifted toward its resting place at Pier 6. Although the dockyard alarms were routine for the department, today was different, as North End general storekeeper Constant Upham could see the serious nature of the fire from his home and called surrounding fire stations to advise them. Upham's store was on Campbell Road, directly in view of the burning ship, and as one of the few buildings at the time with a telephone, he placed his call sometime after 8:45 that morning. Despite this warning, none of the firemen knew that the ship carried munitions. It was believed however, that the vessel's crew was still onboard, as West Street's Station 2, Brunswick Street's Station 1, Göttingen Street, and Quinpool Road's Station 5 responded to Upham's call.

Fire Chief Edward P. Condon and Deputy Chief William P. Brunt, were next on the scene, arriving from Brunswick Street in the department's 1911 McLaughlin Roadster. The heat was so overwhelming, no one could look at the inferno. Chief Condon pulled the Box 83 alarm again. In the final moments before the explosion, hoses were being unrolled as the fire spread to the docks. Retired Hoseman John Spruin Sr. was on his way from Brunswick Street in a horse-drawn pumper, and Hoseman John H. E. Duggan was traveling from Isleville Street's Station 7 with another horse-drawn firefighting wagon.

None of the firemen knew the danger that they faced as 9:04 arrived, bringing about the explosion that obliterated the dockyard fire site. Fire Chief Edward Condon and Deputy Chief William Brunt were killed immediately along with the Patricia's crew members: Captain William T. Broderick, Captain G. Michael Maltus, Hoseman Walter Hennessey, and Hoseman Frank Killeen. Teamsters John Spruin and John Duggan were both struck and killed by shrapnel en route to the fire. Their horses were also killed instantly in the blast. Patricia hoseman Frank D. Leahy died on December 31, 1917 from his injuries. Nine members of the Halifax Fire Department lost their lives performing their duty that day.

The only surviving member at the scene was Patricia driver Billy (William) Wells, who was opening a hydrant at the time of the blast. He recounts the event for the Mail Star, October 6, 1967,“ That's when it happened ... The first thing I remember after the explosion was standing quite a distance from the fire engine ... The force of the explosion had blown off all my clothes as well as the muscles from my right arm... ”

It is explained that Billy was standing again as the tsunami came over him. He managed to remain on land.

“ ...After the wave had receded I didn't see anything of the other firemen so made my way to the old magazine on Campbell Road ... The sight was awful ... with people hanging out of windows dead. Some with their heads off, and some thrown onto the overhead telegraph wires ... I was taken to Camp Hill Hospital and lay on the floor for two days waiting for a bed. The doctors and nurses certainly gave me great service ”

Notably, firefighter Albert Brunt also survived the blast, by chance, as he slipped while attempting to jump onto the Patricia as it rounded a corner on its way to the docks.

A new pumper was purchased by the city and arrived just a few days after the explosion. The Patricia was later restored by the American LaFrance company for $6,000, who donated $1,500 to a fund for the families of the firemen. The families of firemen killed in the blast received $1,000 from the city (close to $15,000 in 2007 dollars), with the exception of one, who received $500.

On the 75th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion, December 6, 1992, the Halifax Fire Department erected a monument at the current Station 4, at the corner of Lady Hammond Road and Robie Street, in honour of the fallen members who died fighting the fire on Mont-Blanc.

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