Every Year 14th April is observed as Fire Service Day in India as a part to pay homage to those brave Fire Fighters, who sacrificed their live in line to their duty on 14th April, 1944. Industries observe this day / week as Fire Service day / Week and conducts Training, Drills and Rehearsals to demonstrate the Preparedness to combat emergencies.
The Ship in which accident took place named S S Fort Stikline having capacity of 7000 Tons belonged to Ministry of War and Transport. The ship left Birkinhead – UK on 24th February, 1944. Convey of 20 other ships with cargo for Karachi and Bombay was loaded. The Karachi Cargo Contained RAF Planes, General Stores, Explosives and Ammunitions. Bombay Cargo was 1395 Tons of Explosives and Ammunitions and Service Stores. The ship reached Karachi on 30th March, 1944 where a part of Cargo was discharged, leaving void 2, 86,000 cu. Feet in her hold. The new Cargo loaded was cotton, timber, lubricating oil, resin, sulphur and other combustible material. The ship then left Karachi on 9th April, 1944 and reached Bombay on 9th April, 1944. No explosives or ammunition were off loaded until the ship has been alongside for 24 hours.
ACCORDING TO THE BYE LAWS OF B.P.T [ Bombay Port Trust]
- A Ship carrying explosives is not allowed into docks, but under Rule 88 of the Defense of India Rules, this Bye-Law is suspended in case where Military Officer has given a Certificate of “GRAVE EMERGENCY”. Such a certificate was issued for S S Stiklite
The ship was anchored at Victoria Dock Bombay and the Memorable Day, throughout the morning, she was active as cargo hooks swayed a load of commodities from the S S Fort Stikline. Firemen were at Fire Stations as usual shining their brass to keep their fire engines shining.
On 14th April, 1944, at 1400 hrs
A Whiff of smoke noticed from No.: II hold of the ship. Frantic series of short blast of whistles were heard warning of fire board. The ship crew started pouring musky water in the ship hold. Fire Engines from Alexandra Dock and Air Force Squad arrived immediately and started hose streams in smoking hold to control fire spread. The firemen though aware of the dangerous situation, there was no panic. The prompt arrival of the Fire Engines seemed no reason to think that the fire could not be controlled. Soon it became apparent that the firemen were loosing ground. A call was put through to Mumbai Fire Brigade control for Additional appliances. At 14.30 hrs, a large part of Fire Service was on pliers. Total 32 Water Jets came into action pouring gallons of water into ship hold to quench the fire. The Fire was still gained. There was something preventing the water from reaching the seat of fire. The deck head under the firemen’s feet grew hotter and hotter. The water stream played over the deck head turned into steam. It was now clear that the fire was out of control. Slides and Deck became CHERRY RED, blenching thick black and brown smoke. Flames shot mast high but sound never reached firemen’s ear.
1605 Hrs. ~ Ground Rumbled and EXPLOSION,
S S Fort Stikline Blew Up with its gallant firemen and fire engines disappeared from the face of earth. No. of ships destroyed nearby. At one stroke, the key port of Bombay was taken out of war.
1636 Hrs. ~ SECOND EXPLOSION,
Explosion was heard miles away. Entire Dock upto few kms was in flames. 14 other ships standing aside destroyed. 336 people burned. All nearby/around people and animals died. Many Fire Fighters died or disabled. The Number of persons who died in the Explosion will never be known and figures are conflicting. NFPA Handbook listed 731 dead whereas other sources said 1500 Died/Missing and more than 3000 Injured.
Couple of months after the Disaster, 3083 people had requested claims for damage by Fire or Explosion to their property. 11735 had put up Claim for uninsured properties. 466 Uninsured people claimed as compensation for personal injuries.
The Compensation paid out 850 Lakhs as damage by fire/explosion. Marine Insurance was 150 Lakhs. Paid for uninsured properties was 300 lakhs and personal injuries was 13 lakhs with miscellaneous policies of 4.5 lakhs.
Government of India declared this day of 14th April every year to be observed as Fire Service Day in recognition of the valor and sacrifice of the courageous FIRE FIGHTERS who laid down their lives in Line of their Duty.
Industries conduct Fire Fighting Training Mock Drills, Fire Drills or Emergency Drills every year on this day to pay homage and create awareness and knowledge about handling emergencies in their fellow workers.