Forty-five years ago, on May 26, 1971, CFD Lieutenant Harold Smith answered his last alarm becoming the fifth active Line of Duty Death in the Calgary Fire Department.
Accident: May 26, 1971, approximately 11:15 pm
Location of Fire: Suite #12, 2nd Floor (rear) north end. McTavish Block – 815 Macleod Trail SE
Description of Occurrence: While aggressively attacking a fire in Suite #12, 2nd floor rear of the McTavish Block, Lieut. H.E. Smith indicated he was having difficulties and while attempting to leave the fire area, collapsed. He was removed to the street and given resuscitation. The ambulance in attendance took him to the Calgary General Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 24:00.
(as per the preliminary investigation report)
May 27, 1971
Please be advised that funeral services for Lieutenant Harold E. Smith will be held Saturday, May 29, 1971, 1:30 pm at St. Mary’s Cathedral, 18th avenue and 1st street Sw.
Members are required to assemble at the C.N.R. Station no later than 1:10 pm and will parade to St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Dress will be Uniform Tunic, Light Blue Shirt and Tie weather permitting and Burberries will be worn if weather inclement.
C.A. Harrison, Chief
Calgary Fire Department
(as per CFD memo)
Harold Smith, born in Bigger, Saskatchewan, on June 10th 1920, served with the Calgary Fire Department for almost 26 years. Initially employed following his discharge from the Navy in 1945 until January 1952, Smith returned to the job later that year.
Following his return, Smith gained a promotion to the rank of Lieutenant in April 1969, a reward for his loyalty and hard work. He earned a reputation as a respected and well liked firefighter, and his service to the City of Calgary extended beyond the working realm, displayed by his role in the apprehension of a serial robber in October 1952, who was in the act of stealing a woman’s purse!
On May 26, 1971, B shift at Number 1 Station responded to an alarm at 815 McLeod Trail SE. Upon arrival, they discovered the male resident of the second floor apartment, Alfred S. Brown, unconscious and badly burned.
While a number of firefighters tried to help Brown, Lt. Smith and others tried to put out the burning hot blaze inside the apartment. Lt. Smith fell victim to the heat and smoke, rumoured to have called out ‘Boys, I’m getting dizzy, right before he passed out. His colleagues tried to resuscitate him to no avail. Lt. Harold Smith died at around midnight, on the way to Calgary General Hospital, while Alfred Brown also died from his injuries in the following days. Smith left behind a wife, and two sons. Lt. Smith was to start his annual vacation on May 28, 1971.
Arson investigators determined that the accidental ignition of a sofa by a lit cigarette caused the fire. Many changes have taken place in fire prevention over the last 45 years, but tragic events such as the McTavish fire are a reminder of the need for awareness at home, as well as the risks the Fire Department faces when protecting the public. Protective equipment is much better today, compared to 45 years ago, but accidental fires still present a huge threat to the safety of firefighters and the public.