The Titanic had smoke detectors

Hi all, I was reading over the technical posts and noticed no one had posted, or perhaps knew of this feature. As we all know the Titanic was fitted with the most up to date safety features of her day, including a unique fire detection system. Near the Bridge was the Master Fire Station. A fireman was posted here 24 hours a day and was never more than six feet away from his post. Positioned on the bulkhead of this station was an airtight glass case. Small tubes entered this case from secondary fire stations throughout the ship. A suction system drew air from the other stations into the master control case. This master control case was fitted with a piece of foil that vibrated with the air flow to let the observer know when the system was operation. If there was a fire anywhere on the ship that contained a secondary fire station inlet tube, the smoke would be drawn into the system and appear in the master case and form a little ball that, according to period fireman, resembled a ball of gray wool. The lead fireman would then telephone the deckhands at the secondary stations and have them check the decks for fire and or smoke. Hydrants and hoses were placed strategically throughout the ship, and a few of these hydrants were found intact on the bow portion of the wreck. Where on the bow and on which side I do not remember at present, but I do remember seeing the pictures in one of my many Titanic books thought unfortunately, I cannot recall which one this is in at this time.
Hi Brian!

It's my understanding that this arrangement did not apply to Titanic. I don't mean the extinguishers, hoses or pipes, but the first bit. I'm told it might apply to another vessel of the period. Could I ask your source -- is it Lightoller?


This description is indeed from 'Titanic and Other Ships', but though Lightoller includes it in a chapter about Titanic it's clearly intended as a general impression of fire-fighting equipment and procedures on 'modern' ships (ie at the time the book was written - 1930s?). He finishes with something like "And now to return to the Titanic".
Hi Bob!

That explains it. I didn't think it fitted to Titanic (or any of the 'Olympics' at the peak of Lightoller's time) yet with such a detailed description it had to come from somewhere. Thanks for confirming the source. It's often interesting to find out where some of the misinformation that we all see from time to time comes from. That way it's easier to prevent mistakes or to correct them. Thanks again.

Best regards,

Hi Mark!

No my source is not Lightoller, but I read it in a technical manual describing the Titanic and its equipment, I was young at the time and do not recall the title of the manual, but it was from the period, whether or not this arrangement was actually on board the ship is questionable, but it was listed to have been installed. For what reasons it was not are unclear, perhaps cost cutting measures.


Sounds like a passable description of the Kidde-Rich patent fire detection system. I associate it with cargo compartments rather than passenger accommodation.

Kidde were extant into the 1960s but a cursory search elicited nothing; they could be defunct or absorbed into some other fire protection company.

As to how far they go back - I don't know.

The advertisement pages in such as the reprints of Shipbuilder etc. might be fruitful.

Hi Brian!

It's a pity you don't remember the title of the manual. It would help considerably, since we don't have any proof of such a system being fitted to Titanic. I know H&W did not always provide a complete range of up-to-date equipment, but I would have thought it unlikely that they would have cut a whole system like that out of a design.


From what Noel has said, Walter Kidde & Co (fire protection and safety) might fit the bill. They began business in the 1930s, and quickly became a leading name on the strength of innovative systems. Lightoller's book was published in 1935.

The description given by Brian appears with almost exactly the same wording on a number of Titanic web sites as that of a 'unique system' used on the ship. Clearly there is a common source, and if it isn't Lightoller then he must have used it too. If there is a primary source contemporary with Titanic, it's odd that Lightoller would have drawn on it when describing the latest developments devised to meet the post-Titanic SOLAS regulations, and even more odd that he would include this only as an 'aside' in a Titanic chapter and not mention that Titanic was so equipped. But it's still possible, so I'll try digging a little deeper.
That description of the fire detection system seems to match the Queen Mary's fairly well, from what I recall, though I think I also heard that smokers who stepped too close to the detectors set off more than a few false alarms. Wasn't the Mary also equipped with a system that could pump foam or gas into the affected area to douse the fire?

The description, is used in Lightoller's book, where he got it from I don't know. However it certainly fits Kidde Rich. The same system is mentioned on the Morro Castle. The beauty of the system was that after you detected fire you could close a couple of valves and use the same pipes to inject Carbon Dioxide into the burning space. Walter Kidde Co. of Bellville, N.J. was one of the foremost producers of marine fire detection and extinguishment equipment. I believe they were bought up by United States Lines in the 1970s. The description sounds very similar to the Normandie, also. Remember Lightoller wrote his book many years after the Titanic.
Charlie Weeks