Michael Prue’s office has been a great source of interview contacts and connected me with some very unique people. On this cold February morning I made the trek into the Beach to meet another one of Michael’s suggested interviewees: Ralph Noble, a long-term fire-fighter with a deep local attachment and some very interesting stories to tell.
Ralph welcomed me into his living room and in a quiet, modest way started to respond to my questions. His attachments to the Beach run deep: Ralph’s dad was born in 1918 and lived on a local street called Willow Avenue. Ralph himself spent his formative years around Warden and Kingston Road. After living for some time in the suburban communities of Sutton and Alliston Ralph moved back into Toronto, and right into the Beach. He met his wife Lida at a dance at the Balmy Beach Club and just got married last December.
His first job was as a life guard at the Leuty Lifesaving Station. In the mid 1970s Ralph joined the Toronto Harbour Police which later became the Metro Police Marine Unit. In 1982 he left the police services and became a fire fighter. Ralph explained that today most fire fighters take two or three year long college programs and only about 20 to 30 applicants out of 1000 are actually hired. Before they even start, many of the trainees already have medical training, defibrillation, first aid certificates and a Class D drivers licence. Then they undergo a ten to twelve week long training program that also includes high angle rescue, which essentially means rappelling down the walls of an office tower. Auto extrication, as it would become necessary during a motor vehicle accident, is also part of the training.
For eight to nine years, Ralph Noble worked in a heavy rescue truck and was involved in water rescue, high angle rescue and specialized works for the Mississauga Fire Department. In his spare time he plays hockey on a fire fighters team, and he sometimes gets to play against his colleagues from the local Fire Station 227.
With the Toronto Harbour Police Ralph participated in numerous water and boat rescues. During his tenure with the Harbour Police there was a 100 foot observation tower at the foot of Reese Street. He added that doing night shift by yourself on the tower was not a lot of fun. Today cameras are facilitating the surveillance process.
A harrowing boat rescue in freezing temperatures
Ralph specifically remembers one boat rescue at the National Yacht Club one year in the month of April. Gale force winds were howling and one boat, originally anchored by three lines, had almost torn loose as two lines were broken. The temperatures were so cold that the boat was starting to get covered in ice. Ralph tried to rig it, but that did not work, so he had to jump onto the boat to secure it. Braving the Arctic wind and the bone-chilling temperatures he successfully leaped on the boat and attached the mooring line. His artful boat rescue was caught on camera by a Globe and Mail photographer.
One time in Mississauga, Ralph and his colleagues had to rescue some of their colleagues who had rolled over in their fire truck. A vehicle had cut off the truck which caused it to roll over and trap three fire fighters underneath the truck. Being able to rescue his colleagues’ life is one of Ralph’s most meaningful memories.
The next story illustrates that a fire fighter is never off duty. Ralph was taking a walk with his dog Fiona at the bottom of Kenilworth Avenue in minus ten degree temperatures. All of a sudden he heard a cry, so he stopped; then he heard another cry. Ralph saw a woman’s head bobbing up and down in the icy water, and concluded that this was a suicide attempt. Ralph shouted to the woman whether she would be able to swim to him while another passer-by called 911.
Saving a life at the foot of Kenilworth Avenue
The woman was not able to help herself and was virtually immobilized from severe hypothermia. Ralph immediately took off his jacket and shoes and swam out to her in five degree water. To rescue the woman, Ralph tossed her his dog leash to which she held on and slowly came on shore. Ralph himself was in the freezing water up to his nose. Once they got into three foot deep water, Ralph walked her back to the boardwalk by which time the first police car had arrived. Two ambulances showed up on the scene and the first one took the woman to the hospital. Ralph was taken to the other ambulance to warm up, and he also was suffering from serious hypothermia. He smiles and adds “There was definite shrinkage that day.” He got to spend the entire day at home to slowly warm up his body to recover.
Ralph’s heroic act drew major attention from all across the city, and he received numerous awards for his bravery. Among many other honours, he was given the Ontario Provincial Firefighters’ Award of Bravery, handed out by Lieutenant Governor James K. Bartleman. Ralph Noble also received the 2005 Merit Award as Firefighter of the Year and the Fire Chief’s Citation for Valor.
Receiving an award from Police Chief Bill Blair with his wife Lida