Today’s Flashback Friday takes us back 75 years to June 25, 1946. On that date, a massive 9 alarm fire erupted at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal on the borough’s St. George waterfront, causing both the loss of life and the overwhelming destruction of property
The fire was first noticed at approximately 2:15 pm, as passengers on the arriving ferry Mary Murray noticed the first wisps of smoke. The boat thankfully did not dock as its passengers would have been subjected to what moments later was described as “a seething cauldron of flame.” In addition to the arriving ferry’s captain choosing not to dock, a departing ferry had just left, leaving the terminal virtually empty. Two other ferries idling in their slips had time to depart before the fast moving flames destroyed the terminal and slips.
The response to the blaze was overwhelming. Two United States Coast Guard vessels and five FDNY Marine units fought the blaze from the harbor, while land units raced to the scene from Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. The Verrazano Bridge hadn’t yet been built, so the Brooklyn units were loaded aboard ferries from that borough and sailed across the harbor, while the Manhattan units raced through the Holland Tunnel, through New Jersey and across the Bayonne Bridge to reach the scene. A total of 50 engine and ladder companies responded to fight the fire.
It is still unclear how the fire began, as conflicting eyewitnesses blamed both the Staten Island Rapid Transit (SIRT) tracks adjacent to the terminal, and a paint storage area beneath the tracks. The fire led to the complete destruction of the terminal, with service interrupted for four weeks.
Sadly the fire produced three civilian fatalities and over 280 injuries, mostly firefighters overcome by smoke. Thankfully, all recovered. Strangely, as the fire erupted, Department of Transportation officials were in a meeting at City Hall, presenting plans for an updated terminal on the site. An new terminal was completed in 1951.