After budget cuts brought on in great part by poor leadership at the state level from both political parties under Governors Whitman, McGreevey, Codey, and Corzine the City of Camden laid of a large number of its professional fire department at the end of 2010. Former Chief David A. Yates had offered three plans on how to cope with the situation, all were rejected by parties at Camden's City Hall, and a plan for the Fire Department, which to date I have not been able to find out who authored, was handed back to the Chief. Chief Yates subsequently chose to retire, and Chief Michael Harper was appointed as his replacement. Chief Harper inherited a no-win situation, and the losses began almost immediately. With Fire companies closed in different parts of the city, response times to fire calls increased, homes that could have been saved were destroyed, and civilians injured.
On June 6, 2011 a vacant two-story twin at 821-823 of Chestnut Street was destroyed by fire. Three days later, on June 9, fire broke out in the abandoned warehouse on Chestnut Street that formerly housed the Reliable Tire Company. When the few available local units arrived on the scene, hydrants were found to have been vandalized, delaying efforts to extinguish the blaze, which soon went to 12 alarms. Units were called in from surrounding communities, obviously taking a great deal of time to arrive on scene. In the mean time, high winds caused the fire to spread to adjacent buildings that formerly were occupied by the Camden Pottery Company, and homes on Orchard, Louis, and Mount Vernon Streets. Ten occupied homes were completely destroyed, as were all the industrial buildings, and thirteen other homes on Chestnut Street were badly damaged by smoke and water. Conditions and results of this blaze mimicked in almost every way the Poet's Row fire of August, 1972 where a vacant leather factory once occupied by the John R. Evans & Company caught fire and two and one-half full city blocks of homes on Byron, Burns, and Milton Streets were completely and utterly destroyed.... a deadly combination of an old and abandoned industrial building, short-staffed fire department, low water pressure and high winds being among the contributing factors.
In the early morning hours of June 11, 2011 another abandoned industrial building was reported to be on fire. The former Howland Croft, Sons & Company mill on Broadway between Winslow and Jefferson Streets was devastated by a blaze that went to eight alarms. One house at the corner of South 4th and Winslow and three homes on Winslow Street were damaged by smoke and water, but fortunately, none were destroyed.
Rumors of arson were flying through the city when, on Tuesday, June 14 a vacant twin at 107 North 34th Street was gutted, with the adjacent home taking a great deal of smoke and water damage.
On June 19, ANOTHER vacant industrial building went up in flames. The building in the 1600 block of Federal Street, originally a soap works and in more recent times a facility belonging to Concord Chemical, went up in flames. This fire was confirmed as an arson a few days later.
In the meantime, calls for fire service great and small continued. On June 23rd, a vacant industrial building in the 1000 block of Empire Avenue saw fire, just a few days after the Concord Chemical blaze. On June 25th, a fire was knocked down in the vacant building at Davis and Copewood Streets, the original home of the Coriell Institute, now located on Haddon Avenue.
At 11:47 PM on the night of June 25, the Camden Fire Department was called on to extinguish a blaze at 1018 Kenwood Avenue in the Parkside neighborhood. Camden City companies were dispatched to 1018 Kenwood Avenue when multiple callers reported a working fire. Camden County Dispatch advised that the homeowner had gone back into the dwelling and did not exit. EMS arrived and reported all occupants to be out of the structure. Squad 7 arrived with heavy fire showing from division 2 of a two story end of the row dwelling. Battalion 1 placed all hands in service. Crews knocked the fire quickly without injuries. Another fire was extinguished at 925 & 927 North 3rd Street on Monday, June 27th.
In the early morning hours of July 2, 2011 a fire was extinguished at 1304 Sheridan Street, and as it was being wrapped up, the corner store at 876 Fairview Street went up in flames, with adjoining homes being damaged by smoke and water.
At 1:55 AM on the morning of July 5, 2011 units of the Camden Fire Department extinguished a fire at the River Link Ferry pier at Wiggins Park. Ron Trout from www.phillyfirenews.com reported the following:
B/C 1 reported he had fire on the River Link Ferry Pier with extension to the actual ferry. Engine 6 went in service with the deck gun as Squad 7 and the rest of Engine 6's crew stretched 2.5 inch hand lines. S/C PFD Marine Unit 1. Command reported the fire was contained to the pier with minimal extension to the ferry
For more coverage of this incident, click here.
Another vacant industrial building fell on the night of July 5, 2011 when the former home of the Clement Coverall Company at 615 Van Hook Street was destroyed by fire. The building, which dated back to at least 1896, had been designated a hazardous site by the EPA, Clement Coverall having been in the manufacture of varnishes and coatings for over 80 years at that location. The fire went to two alarms, with units from Gloucester City, Oaklyn, and Collingswood rendering assistance to Camden's Fire Department. The fire was determined to have been an arson, and a drug-abusing prostitute who had been squatting in the building was arrested for setting the fire..
At 5:55 PM on July 7, 2011 a house fire was reported at 2930 Kansas Road in the Fairview section of Camden. Responding companies arrived in the middle of a brief but sever thunderstorm. Ted Aurig from www.phillyfirenews.com reported that Camden Fire Department's Engine Company 10 "arrived with fire showing from the 2nd floor of a 2 story E/O/R dwelling. 2 hand lines placed in operation. Searches negative." For more coverage of this fire, click here.
Around 12:00 noon on July 8, 2011 a kitchen fire was reported in Apartment 403 of the senior citizens apartment building located at 3195 Westfield Avenue. Ladder Company 3, Engine Company 11, and other units quickly arrived on scene and extinguished the blaze. For the next seven days, the Camden Fire Department responded to numerous calls for service regarding automobile accidents, fire alarms going off, people being stuck in elevators, and, of course, small fires. On July 13th units responded to a report of a fire at South 28th and Mickle Street, an unattended backyard fire pit that was throwing a lot of smoke, fortunately the homeowner extinguished it by the time CFD personnel arrived. The following day, June 14, Engine Companies 11 and 9, along with Ladder Company 3 responded to an alarm at Veterans Memorial Middle School in Cramer Hill which turned out of be of no consequence.
The next day, however, the Department dodged a bullet. A fire was set in the abandoned paper warehouse at South 16th and Admiral Wilson Boulevard in East Camden. Units including Engine Company 9, Ladder Companies 1 and 3, Rescue Company 1 and Battalion 2 quickly arrived on scene and the blaze was knocked down in less than fifteen minutes. This building is filled with bales of paper, used pallets, and other debris and dust, and owing to the quick and efficient response by the CFD, another disaster was averted. For how long, however, is anyone's guess.
As a heat wave rolled into the Delaware Valley, the epidemic of fires cooled off. For the balance of July, things were relatively quiet. This ended on July 29th when arsonists put a building that had formerly housed a nail salon at 950 Haddon Avenue to the torch. The unoccupied building was completely gutted. Firefighters had the blaze and 90-plus degree temperatures to contend with, and one firefighter, Dom Barrett, was treated at Cooper Hospital for heat-related issues.
Later that night there was a fire at 27 South 36th Street, and in the early morning hours of July 30th, a fire in a vacant one-story warehouse at 633 Liberty Street went to three alarms after being brought under control. Later that morning Engine 10 responded to a call concerning a car on fire in a vacant lot on South 6th Street below Ferry Avenue and extinguished the blaze in short order.
July ended with a building collapse at 820 South 5th Street, the northeast corner of South 5th and Division Streets. A former commercial property, this building had been the scene of a fire-related fatality years before. The rear of the building collapsed, sending bricks into Division Street. Camden Fire Department units responded, and Rescue Company 1 personnel conducted a search, determining that no one had been trapped beneath the rubble.
Although I commented above that in the latter half of July things had been relatively quiet, this only applied to fires. The understaffed Camden Fire Department on a daily basis is responding to all sorts of non-fire calls, such as this building collapse, EVERY fire alarm malfunction in every alarmed building and residence in the city, people trapped in elevators, auto accidents, downed wires, water flooding basements from adjoining properties where the pipes have been stolen, and a myriad of other situations that never make the local news. Each and every situation has to be immediately responded to and investigated, there is no "we'll get there later because we are too busy".... in fire and rescue, seconds count because lives are on the line. There really is no "quiet time" for Camden's fire service.
At approximately 10:20 on August 2, 2011 a fire was reported in the second floor a vacant house at 1031 South 5th Street. The blaze soon spread to the adjoining property at 1033 South 5th Street. Phillyfirenews.com reporter Joel D. Bain wrote the following:
Squad 7, Engine 1, Ladder2, Ladder 1, Tower Ladder 3 and Battalion 1 were dispatched to to South 5th for a dwelling. The board added the extra engine due to numerous calls. Battalion 1 arrived on location with heavy fire showing on the 2nd Floor. Battalion 1 then struck the all hands because the fire was extending into the "B" bravo side of the dwelling. Engine 9 and Car 2 responded into the location with Engine 11 to be special called. Due to deteriorating conditions a defensive attack mode was placed into service. After about 1 hour the fire was placed under control.
Within two weeks of this event, arsonists struck in the adjacent block, setting fire to playground equipment at the Ulysses S. Wiggins elementary school.
On August 5, 2011 Camden Fire department companies responded to a call concerning a fire in a two-story middle of row dwelling at 1534 Park Boulevard. When companies arrived, smoke was showing from the second floor. All hands were called out to contain this fire, with two 1-3/4" hand lines placed in operation. The blaze was quickly put out, with no damage to the surrounding occupied dwellings.
Shortly after 1:00 PM, fire struck at 708 Broadway. Multiple calls were received concerning a report of a fire upstairs. Police on location reported fire in the hallway with the possibility of a juvenile female being trapped on the second floor.
Battalion 1 used Engine 1, Ladder 1, and Rescue 1 for stairway fire. Fire under control at 1335 hours, all occupants accounted for. One police officer transported to hospital for smoke inhalation. Unknown status of civilians. Co.s dispatched were Engine 1, Engine 10, Squad 7, Ladder 1, Ladder 3, Rescue 1 and Battalion 1. Box transmitted at 1317 hours, under control 1335 hours.
On the night of August 19-20 a car fire was reported in Cramer Hill on North 24th Street between Pierce and Harrison Avenues. Engine 11 was dispatched and quickly extinguished the fire. Other car fires in Cramer Hill were also reported during the month of August.
As with the web page covering other Camden Fire Department events, if you can identify anyone that I've missed, please e-mail me. (I'm terrible at at names and faces).
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