JOHN FRANCIS LETTS was born in Camden, New Jersey on September 29, 1918 to Charles D. and Anna M. Letts. He grew up at 2208 Howell Street in East Camden. John Letts attended public schools in Camden through the eight grade, and then went to Camden County Vocational School, where he took up welding.

In July of 1940 John Letts was working at the RCA-Victor factory in downtown Camden. On the day of the Hollingshead factory fire, he was on his lunch hour walking with a co-worker near Ninth and Market Streets when the blast occurred. The force of the blast sent the man out the window and backward across the street where he sailed through the plate glass window of a first floor barber shop, opposite the factory. John Letts ran the distance to the shop and found the victim laying on the floor bleeding heavily. The story goes that in the process of flying backward through the window, the razor sharp glass acted as a guillotine and amputated both of the man's ears. The startled barber had the presence of mind to grab a pair of dusty, fur lined earmuffs that had been hanging on a wall hook in the shop over several previous winters. With the help of a customer, the barber placed the muffs over the victim's bloody head where his ears had been, and secured it tightly with a roll of masking tape.

John F. Letts was appointed to the Camden Fire Department on April 1, 1952 and reported for duty the same day. He was promoted to captain on May 16, 1960, and to Battalion Chief on June 23, 1971. 

On the night of March 27, 1977 Chief Letts, in command of the 3rd Battalion, responded to an  "all hands-Box #5212" transmitted at 11:37 PM. Firemen George Abbey and Denny Penn of Engine 7, and Jim Nash of Engine 8 rescued a trapped and unconscious woman from the burning house at 1440 Sheridan Street. Hustle on the part of all units resulted in the saving a life and the quick confinement of fire. Fireman Denny Dowhy of Ladder Company 2 also rescued a dog from the inferno. 

Chief Letts was also active in the firefighters' union, as part of the Camden Fire Officers Association, which became Local #2578 of the International Association of Fire Fighters on June 28, 1977. Chief Letts was the new Local's first treasurer, the first president being Captain Kenny Clark, then of Ladder Company 3 and the first secretary Captain Randy Brooks of Ladder Company 1.

After serving the City of Camden faithfully for over 29 years, Chief Letts retired on February 1, 1981.

From the 1950s into the 1970s John F. Letts lived at 582 North 35th Street in East Camden. His neighbor at 558  was Camden Fire Department member Henry Keubler. When residency restrictions were lifted on Camden fire fighters in the 1970s, John F. Letts moved from the city. His last days were spent in Millville, New Jersey. John F. Letts passed away on April 24, 1984.

Below: John F. Letts and his brother Charlie and a friend on Howell Street.


Left: John F. Letts and older brother Charlie,  1919

Engine 11's 1956 American LaFrance Pumper
Photo by Bob Bartosz
Engine 11's new pumper, 
From left: John Letts, John C. Voll, Captain Charles Patterson, James Troutman

Engine 11's 1956 American LaFrance Pumper
Photo by Bob Bartosz
Engine 11's new pumper. The car at right belonged to John C. Voll

The Miracle of Easter - March 30, 1970


Manpower of two Engine Companies get big line into service and give fire "a dash" from the street before attempting interior attack at Fourth Alarm, North 6th & Penn Streets, March 30, 1970.

Fourth Alarm for fire and collapse at electronics supply house, North 6th & Penn Streets, center city in March 1970. Scene depicts exterior operations at height of fire as heavy smoke vents from building. Roof and top floor of building collapsed trapping members of Engine Company 1

Members access basement and prepare to advance handline through sidewalk cellar doors during overhaul at Fourth Alarm, North 6th & Penn Streets- 3-30-1970

All hands anxiously await their turn on the inside during rescue operations following collapse of fire building on Easter Monday, March 1970. At time of collapse Engine 1 was operating handline on second floor while overhauling. Without warning roof and second floor pancaked into first floor and basement. Captain Phillip Maycott and Fire Fighters Alston, DeHart, Maroldo and Winters were buried amid tons of rubble. All members managed to extricate themselves except for "the Officer and the Probie".

Removed from ruins of collapse is Probationary Fire Fighter John Maroldo. Maroldo narrowly escaping certain death after being entombed for over an hour is seen shouting at members to "find my captain". 

Captain Vincent Orme, Engine Company 7 reassures Maroldo that continuing rescue operations are underway.

Captain Maycott as last member removed from collapse is carried to waiting ambulance. Units at scene breached walls and performed tunneling and shoring operations to reach trapped members. Both Maycott and Maroldo miraculously escaped with just bruises and sprains. Remaining members of Engine 1 were treated for cuts and scrapes following near catastrophe on March 30, 1970.







Shown above are the three executive board members of the newly adopted Local #2578 I. A. F. F.. as they proudly display their new charter along with two representatives of the LA.F.F. from both State and International Offices. They are (left to right) Mike Bavaro, State President of the N.J. Firefighters Association LA.F.F., Mr. Cel Kelly of Nova Scotia, Canada, Staff Representative  of the LA.F.F., and Local #2578's Secretary, Randy Brooks, Treasurer, John Letts, and President, Kenny Clark.