There's been a sneaking suspicion over the years that the crew of the SS Mont-Blanc just didn't try hard enough to put out its deck fire. That with a bit more effort, and a lot less cowardice, the Halifax Explosion could have been averted.
But a whole team of professionals did try and failed.
From the instant that flames were spotted on board, the 'Box 83' bell sounded in the docks. This was the signal for Halifax's fire fighters to drop what they were doing and prepare to respond to the emergency.
In 1917, being a member of the fire brigade was not a full time occupation. Trained volunteers left their ordinary workplaces and waited in pre-arranged places to leap onto Patricia, as she passed. Patricia was something special for Halifax. She was Canada's first fire engine and she served their city.
Painter and fire fighter Albert Brunt was humiliated that morning. He'd abandoned his trolley, laden with brushes and paint, at the first urgent peal of the Box 83 bell. Waiting on the corner of Gottingen Street, he'd stood poised as Patricia screamed down the street. He leapt, and missed. His colleagues were all jeering at him, as the fire engine went on without him.
He was not nearly as embarrassed as the unnamed fire fighter who, suffering from flu, had been throwing up in the West Street Station's toilet when the alarm sounded. He'd not been able to extract himself in time to climb onto Patricia while she was stationary.
Once on Pier 6, the ten strong Halifax Fire Department were joined by another brigade from Brunswick Street, who arrived in Chief Edward Condon's Buick. He took one look at the blaze and rang the dockyard bell again. More local fire fighters arrived, including retired Johnny Spruin, a respected veteran who brought his own water pump on a horse drawn carriage.
Overlooking them all was Constant Upham, the owner of the North End General Store. He was one of the few people in Halifax with a telephone and, discerning that this wasn't your average ship fire, he took it upon himself to call every fire station in the city.
Those too far away to have heard the bell now sounded their own. Fire personnel poured in from all four local brigades. They faced a blaze so intense that they couldn't even look directly at it. Nevertheless their hoses remained firmly trained on the raging inferno. It made no difference. The ship's fire could not be extinguished, even drenched consistently by the city's most powerful hoses.
All but Patricia's driver Billy Wells were killed when the SS Mont-Blanc exploded. The horses too.
Afterwards, there were only thirty trained fire-fighters left in the whole of Halifax, including Albert Brunt and his ill colleague. They were confronted by thousands of fires springing up throughout the ruined city and no chief left to lead them. Their ranks were swollen by 120 survivor volunteers, and they did their best.