Falcon Inn Fire – 1943

Fire Marshal’s Report Re: – Falcon Inn Fire of September 25, 1943

To the Hon. L.E. Blackwell, K.C., M.P.P.

Attorney General for Ontario

Re: Falcon Inn Fire – Scarborough Township

  1. In accordance with your instructions and at the request of the Township Council of Scarborough by resolution dated October 13, 1943, following a letter of complaint from Lt.-Col.Eric Acland charging inefficiency and inadequacy of the Scarborough fire brigade, I held a public inquiry on October 28 and 29, 1943, into the fire which occurred in the Falcon Inn in the Township of Scarborough on September 25, 1943. At this inquiry evidence was heard from 41 witnesses, which included all the persons sug­gested by any of the ‘parties and also a number of technical experts. Mr. E.H.Silk, K.C., of the Attorney-Generals de­partment, acted, as counsel, while Mr. H.E. Beckett appeared for the Township of ‘Scarborough, and Lt.-Col. Eric Acland rep­resented his mother, .Mrs. Alice Acland, owner of the premises.
  2. The Scarborough fire brigade; is maintained by a small section in the south-west corner of the township known as the “Fire Area” and which has an area of 6.3 square miles and an assessment of $7,276,331. The by-law establishing the Fire Area was passed in 1923, providing for a capital cost of $25,000, and, maintenance at a yearly cost which for 1943 is $20,690.72. The strength of the fire brigade is eight full­ time firemen and the fire chief, and their fire apparatus con­sists of a 1925 Gotfredson fire pumper rated at 315 gpm at 1201bs., and a 1930Rugbytruck with 100 gpm booster pump, both with standard amounts of hose and miscellaneous small equipment. The fire Area is served by a water main and hydrant system.
  3. The balance of the township is 64 miles in area, and has an assessment of $4,338,169. To provide fire protection for this part of the township outside of the. Fire Area, and without hydrant service and very few natural water supplies, there is an agreement between the council and the Fire Area that the smallRugbytruck with 100 gpm booster pump and carrying 170 gallons of water shall be manned by two firemen and respond to all calls in the township. For this an annual payment of about $800 is made to the maintenance of the fire brigade.
  4. The evidence of various witnesses indicated that the fire in the Falcon Inn onSeptember 25, 1943, was burning for consider­able time, probably about one hour, before it was discovered and the alarm telephoned to the fire brigade. As the Falcon Inn was a building of frame construction with stucco finish, this meant that the fire had gained much headway by the time the fire brigade arrived. The fire brigade did not extinguish the fire, and as a result the building was complete1y destroyed, with a loss of $25,000 for the buildings and $5,000 for the contents, covered by $9,000 insurance on the buildings and $1,000 on the contents, making an uninsured loss of $20,000. There was no suggestion that the fire was other than accident, the probable cause being sparks from a chimney.
  1. The letter of complaint datedOctober 2, 1943, and addressed to the Ontario Fire Marshal from Lt.-Col. Eric Acland, contains a number of charges of inefficiency and inadequacy in fighting this fire on the part of theScarborough fire brigade.

A summary of the charges and my findings on each are as follows:

Although there was considerable variance in times given by witnesses, most of the times being from estimates rather than from clocks, I must accept that evidence of Miss Bessie Reesor, Bell telephone operator, who took the toll charge call made by Mrs Alice Acland and in turn telephoned the fire brigade.  According to her records this call was made at 1:43 P.M. It was responded to by Fire Lieutenant James Barnard and two firemen with the small Rugby pumper, who estimate they made the 8 mile run to the Inn in from 10 to 12 minutes. Lieut. Barnard made a brief inspection of the fire, and after finding the Inn phone out of order; went across the road to a  neighbour’s house to phone for assistance. Again accepting the Bell Telephone records, this call was made at 2:05 P.M.

Allowing at least 7 minutes for Barnard’s actions as above, therefore the first fire truck arrived at the scene somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes from the time the alarm was given. The views expressed by a number of witnesses that the time was much longer is understandable in that time at a fire awaiting the fire apparatus always seems much longer than it actually is. I, therefore, am of the opinion that the first fire truck responded promptly to the fire alarm and arrived without undue delay.

(b) That the first fire apparatus to arrive was passed twice on route by the Grey Coach bus.

The evidence given by Hamlet Davis, driver for the Grey Coach Lines, which I accepted was that shortly after 2 p.m. he saw a fire truck turn of Birchmount Rd, on which the Scarborough fire hall is situated, and turned east on No. 5 Highway. In the aproximately20 minutes he took to make the run to the Falcon Inn, including 10 stops for passengers, Davis stated he passed the fire truck three times. Again accepting the times given by the telephone operator, this was the second fire truck to  respond, the 1925 Gotfredson, which was driven by Fire Lieut. William Crates, and manned by one fireman, both of whom were called backed from off duty to answer the second alarm placed by Lieut. Barnard. This is confirmed by the denial of the crew of the Rugby truck that they saw or were passed by any Grey Coach bus, and the admission of the crew of the Gotfredson truck that they were passed by a Grey Coach bus. It is further confirmed by tests of the Gotfredson truck which on this run showed a maximum speed down grade of 43 m.p.h. and a maximum speed up the small grades in this road of 23 m.ph. for a maximum average speed of about 35 m.p.h.

  (c) That the driver and the fireman on this truck were laughing and talking instead of hurrying to the fire.

No evidence was given at the inquiry as to any improper conduct on the part of the firemen on either truck. Accepting the viewpoint that the truck in question in this charge was the second truck to arrive, the 1925Gotfredson, the evidence indicates it was traveling at its near maximum average speed of about 35 m.p.h  For a fire truck on an open 4-lane highway, this is cannot be called “hurrying” but the low speed is accounted for by the fact that this apparatus is 18 years old and according to Fire Chief T.H. Love was purposely geared low to answer calls within the Fire Area only where the roads were not good at the time of this truck’s purchase in 1924. Therefore I can find no fault with the firemen on this second truck who were apparently driving at the limit of speed if which their fire truck was capable.

(d) That no real attempt to master the fire was made by the firemen, including that no hole was cut in the roof to get at the fire.

The many complaints as to the methods used or not used infighting the fire,  which are summarized in this charge, were made by persons who are not experts in fire fighting. The evidence was clear thaton arrival of the first truck there was already a hole in the roof, so it was not necessary to cut another hole. Fireman Richard Dalby went to this hole in the roof with a hose line immediately on arrival. The undisputed evidence of Lieut. Barnard, who has 16 years’ fire fighting experience, was that on his first entry to the Inn the walls of the ground floor were hot to touch, that he found evidence of fire burning behind partitions of at least six rooms on the ground floor. Under these circumstances it would be useless to put more water on any fire in the attic, for even if the flames were extinguished in the attic there would be re-ignition by the flames from below. While the firemen admittedly did not attempt to get at the attic fire from below by using the trap doors leading to the attic and did not go down to the cellar to see if that would be a point of vantage, I must accept the expert evidence of Assistant Deputy Chief Peter Herd of Toronto Fire Department who has 35 years fire fighting experience, that the general procedure followed of tearing off the plaster in the downstairs rooms to get at the fire within the partitions was the correct method to follow. (This general subjectis further dealt with in para. (1) below)

(e) That one of the two firemen who first arrived left the scene to telephone for the second fire apparatus.

Lieut. Barnard, in charge of the first truck, manned by himself and two firemen, made this telephone call. Having regard to the fact that his fire truck was equipped with only a 100 gpm pump serving two lines of ¾ inch hose, which was agreed by all expert witnesses to be entirely inadequate to fight a fire of this size, and further that the service of a second truck was not within the agreement for the fire protection of the rural part of the Township, and its dispatch would leave the Fire area without protection, I cannot criticize Lieut. Barnard for his decision to personally telephone back to the fire hall for assistance.

(f) That this second truck did not arrive until about 3 p.m.

Again accepting the evidence of the Grey Coach Bus driver, this second truck arrived    shortly before 2:30. Accepting the telephone operator’s time of 2:05 when it was called this second truck made the run at somewhere near the maximum speed of which it was capable.

(g) That the second fire truck was unable to pump from the well next door and could only use a small rain water tank.

The evidence was that there was some difficulty in getting the Gotfredson pump to start operating from the well next door – confirmed by the later tests by experts that this pump would not operate from draft without priming – but water from the well was used except for a small amount kept as a reserve. Less than 2,000 gallons were available from these sources.

(h) That the Fire Chief improperly did not utilize the two cisterns and the stream at the rear of the Falcon Inn Property.

These two cisterns contained about 2,000 gallons of water, according to engineers from the Ontario Department of Highways, but the stream was much too shallow and had to small a flow to be utilized by   a fire pumper unless a dam or sump were constructed and a considerable time allowed for this to fill up. All the evidence showed that the small Rugby truck was kept at full operation during the early stages of the fire by a bucket brigade. There would be therefore no advantage in removing it from its existing water supply. The question therefore is if the Gotfredson truck should have been driven to these cisterns. Fire Chief Love stated he refused to do so because of fear of damage to his truck in negotiating the fairly steep bank leading down to these cisterns and because of fear the truck would be stuck there. His refusal is understandable as this Gotfredson truck is not suppose to be sent outside the Fire Area, and damage or delay to it would not only leave the Fire Area without adequate protection but probably cause him to be severely reprimanded by his superiors for taking it out of the Fire Area. These fear , however , could have been avoided if the Township of Scarborough had any arrangement for aid from the City of Toronto Fire Department. Evidence showed that a 1936 commercial truck, weighing about 2 1/4 tons and with double tires on the rear wheels, was able to be back down to these cisterns and to get out under its own power.

While this is quite different from th1925 fire truck weighing about 5 tons and with a higher center of balance, and single tire wheels, I am of the opinion the Gotfredsonfire truck could have been driven down to these cisterns and could have been pulled out with the assistance that was available. Chief Hurd gave his opinion that he would not have ordered a fire truck to these cisterns and that a supply of 2,000 gallons of water, sufficient for less than seven minutes operation by this pumper, would have made no difference to the fire at this stage. For these reasons I am of the opinion that the Fire Chief should not be censured for using these cisterns and streams.

(i)        That the Fire Chief improperly did not utilize the large pond about 300 feet east along the highway.

This pond is 690 ft. from the Inn and contained at least 35,000 gallons of water, a supply that if full use of it could have been made in the early stages of the fire, should have been sufficient to extinguish this fire. From the highway the pond was about 13 ft. below the level of the highway and 33 ft. distant. Closer access could not be gained at this point, an the standard amount of suction hose carried on the truck of 20 ft was much to short to reach the water. The other banks are all fairly steep and heavily wooded. The Fire Chief relied on the opinion of his fire apparatus driver that this pond could not be reached and did not personally view the scene. Evidence was given that there was a pathway  by which the 2 1/4 ton  commercial truck mentioned above was brought within a short distance of the pond, with the truck stopped by a tree at the back and standing  at a considerable angle. While again it is a question of using the 5 ton Gotfredson truck from this pond, Chief Herd gave his opinion that he would not have ordered either fire truck down any bank to this pond, and that the angle at which the truck would stand was to steep for proper operations, Chief Herd expressed this opinion after making a personal inspection of all banks of this pond. Chief Herd further stated that the single stream of 200 gallons of water per minute which the large truck could deliver from this location to the fire would have been inadequate, to control the blaze at the time of the arrival of the fire trucks. The fire when even the first truck arrived, and even more so when the second one came, was of a size in his opinion to require four streams of 200 gpm each. This particular route used by the commercial truck on the west bank was not shown to the fire truck driver although he did see and reject one suggested route on the east bank. It was not unreasonable for the fire chief to rely on the judgment of his driver, rather than leave the immediate scene of the fire himself. Considering all the above, coupled with the fact that the use of the large pumper outside of the Fire Area, is not covered by the agree­ment with the township, I am of the opinion that the Scarborough fire chief should not be censured for not utlllz1ng this large pond. Chief Love’s decision was based upon reasonable grounds, and while upon the above facts a different decision might possibly have been reached, I am in agreement with Chief Herd that by 2:30 P.M. even if the Scarborough fire apparatus did use this pond the water then available would not have materially altered the results of the fire.

(j) That laxity and delay were shown in cutting off the electric current in the premises.

In this I accept the evidence of George Welsh of the Scarborough Hydro that he got a call to come to the Falcon Inn about 2:50P.M. and got there within  half an hour and cut the wires. No evidence was given of any damage or injury having resulted from the wires not being out earlier and I can find no laxity nor unreasonable delay.

(k) That the fire protection for that part of the Township of Scarborough outside of the Fire Area is inadequate.

The agreement with the Township is for the supply of the 100 gpm Rugby truck and two firemen at a yearly cost of about  $800.00. This truck is about the average available for rural fire fighting in the province and is a reasonably good rural fire-fighting apparatus which is very full value for the low price paid of $800 a year. How­ever this size of apparatus is not adequate to control a fire of any magnitude. The recommended standard rural fire apparatus is a 420 gpm pumper with a 200 gal. Water tank and with a crew of six men. The large Gotfredson pumper is also only one-half the capacity of the Canadian Underwriters’ standard for urban municipalities of  a 600 gpm pumper. Further, to properly man these two pieces of fire apparatus, the Scarborough Fire Brigade should have ten men on each shift. The actual strength of the brigade is such that only three firemen were on duty. Therefore, I concur in the view point in this charge that the fire protection for the part of the township outside the fire area is inadequate, but the responsibility for this rests with the ratepayers of this district and the township council.

(l) That generally the Scarborough Fire Department showed lack of initiative and ability in fighting the Falcon Inn fire.

Undoubtedly the citizens of the Falcon Inn district showed much initiative and energy in fighting the fire before the arrival of the fire brigade, in organizing a bucket brigade to keep the small pumper in operation, and rescuing the bulk of the furniture from the burning building. Their strongly expresses disappointment in the fire brigade being unable to control the fire is understandable. Some more water for fire fighting could have been utilized from the cisterns at the rear. Possibly the large pond could have been reached and certainly some water could have been obtained from it by using a barrel , kept full by the bucket brigade, part way up the bank to the roadway. If Mrs. Acland had dammed up the creek at the rear of the Inn for permanent water storage, an adequate supply would have been available.

If the Fire Area Gotfredson truck had been outfitted with 50 feet of suction hose instead of 20 feet this pumper could have drafted water from the large pond from the highway. If the township council had followed the recommendation of the Fire Marshal’s office made by letter dated January7 1942, to survey all emergency water supplies and construct roadways and pumping stands to these, the large pond would have been readily available to any fire truck. If the Township council had followed the recommendations the Canadian Underwriters made August 31 1938, to have a fire brigade of at least 16 men on duty instead of just 3 men, there would have been adequate manpower for the apparatus which did respond. Incidentally this C.U.A. recommendation included the purchase of a 600 gpm pumper to replace the 300 gpm Gotfredson and an additional Ladder Truck all deemed necessary for the Fire Area alone.

If there had been more men to pull down the plaster on the inner walls of the building and more and larger hose available to fight the fire in several places at the same time, the results would no doubt have been different. If the township had an agreement for aid from the City of Toronto, and adequate sized fire apparatus, with more suction hose, more fire hose and more men would have been available. But few of these possibilities are within the competence of the fire brigade or the Scarborough Fire Chief, but rather within the sphere of the township council who intrurn follow the wishes of the ratepayers. No evidence suggested any substantial demand from either the citizens of the Fire Area or of the balance of the township that council spend more money for better fire protection of either district. As to this charge, I amof the opinion I must concur in the viewpoint of Chief Herd in the following question and answer as given in evidence:

      Question – Is it your view that with the equipment and men available and in the circumstances, the Falcon Inn could have been saved if proper judgement had been exercised when the fire department first arrived?

      Answer – I don’t think so.

While the fire brigade could have shown more activity at the fire which would have had a much better appearance to the assembled public, it is most doubtful whether this would have had any material effect on the result as most the effective measures that could have been taken were ones that must be mad ei advance and not during a fire.

Therefore, I am of the opinion the fire brigade showed reasonable initiative and ability in fighting this fire.

(m) That the equipment of the Scarborough Fire Brigade is antiquated and not reliable.

There is no serious criticism of the 1930 Rugby truck, of 100 gpm capacity and a 170 gallon water tank, which is reasonably efficient for fighting small fires and for rural work when there is a very limited water supply. The 1925 Gotfredson truck is beyond the usually accepted age limit of 15 years for completely reliable operation; on a draft test was about 10% below its rated capacity and was difficult to start; has only one-half the standard pumping capacity, and has a top speed on the level of about 35 miles per hour. Both the Canadian Underwriters Association in 1939and the Fire Marshal’s Office in 1942 recommended to council that this Gotfredson truck be replaced by the purchase of an up to date 600 gpm fire pumper, but no action was taken by council. The township council cannot however be entirely blamed for the evidence showed that the township fire chief had not been very forceful in the requests made for better fire apparatus and more firemen. There is therefore some justification for this criticism of the existing apparatus.

(g) Summarizing the above, I am of the opinion that the weight of evidence is that there was no culpable negligence or in-efficiency on the part of the Scarborough Fire Brigade or the Fire Chief. On the other hand, the complaints made by Lt. Col. Acland have rendered a distinct public service in bringing to the attention of the citizens of the fire district and of all Scarborough Township, the inadequacy of the agreement for the fire protection of that part of the township outside the Fire Area, the necessity for providing emergency water supplies for rural fire fighting, with the co-operation of the public who want their properties protected, and the serious deficiencies in the manpower and apparatus in the Scarborough Fire Brigade. These are all matters under the control of the Scarborough Township council and not within the powers of the township fire chief, and the attention of the township council is directed to their remedy.

All of which is respectfully submitted,

W.J Scott, Fire Marshal

Fire Marshal’s Office, Parliament Buildings, Toronto

November 24, 1943.

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