To celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Camden Fire Department, a very limited edition history was published in 1994. The fire fighters of Camden have served the city well, often with less than adequate staffing and equipment, and have compiled an admirable record not only during the years covered in the abovementioned book, but in the years since. I doubt that anywhere in the United States have so few done so much for so many with so little.
That being said, I believe that the story of the fire fighters in Camden deserves being told to a much wider audience that the original limited edition book could ever hope to reach, so it will presented here and on other web-pages within the www.dvrbs.com website.
Please contact me with any comments, questions, or corrections.... and I'm always happy to add further information about the people and event described here. Books have limited space. This website has unlimited space!
This page was first set up on February 27, 2005. Pictures will be added soon
|Camden Fire Department 1869-1994|
Schulte-United Store occupied a five-story building at #23 Broadway
between Federal and Carman
Streets, center city. Around 2:30 A.M. on December
30, 1929, a fire of suspicious origin was discovered by two men who
pulled Box 94 at Broadway
Streets. Heavy smoke produced
punishing conditions which prevented firemen from entering the basement.
This effort proved unsuccessful as the fire raced upward in the shafts from the basement to the roof. Greater Alarms were transmitted to develop additional master streams on the upper floors. By 6 A.M., the first floor collapsed into the basement in a thundering roar. It was another two hours before Chief Thomas Nicholas declared the fire under control. Police questioned two janitors after discovering cans of coal oil on the roof of an adjoining building. The men were later released.
All cities have long held certain sections or districts that pose extraordinary potential for serious fires. When firemen were heard to say "that's a bad Box", they meant that the area from which an alarm was received, often contained special hazards associated with certain types of buildings or occupancies. The City of Camden was certainly no exception.
fifty-one Box at Fillmore Street and Chelton Avenue served a heavy
industrial area, of lower Broadway
in South Camden. While Camden Fire
Fighters throughout the fifties, sixties and seventies, might only
remember the infrequent alarm for dumpsters in the project, or an
occasional freight car in the nearby rail yards, this neighborhood held
special meaning for generations of fire fighters during the earlier
decades of the century.
Street was a macadam service road that ran east to west from Fourth to
Eleventh Streets, adjoining the South Camden rail yards. Along Bulson
Street between Sixth and Master, stood a complex of towering grain
elevators, some as large as eight stories in height. These structures
held hundreds of metric
tons of grain, for both the nearby brewery and as interim storage for
rail transportation. Dust explosions and fires associated with
spontaneous combustion, produced frequent and spectacular blazes. It was
said that as soon as Box 351 tapped in for Fillmore Street and Chelton
Avenue, second alarm units
would be putting their boots on in the firehouses even
before the first due company had arrived.
4 A.M. on Good Friday,
April 18, 1930, Box 351 went for three alarms at Sixth and Bulson
Streets, South Camden. As Engine Company 8 turned into
responding first due on the second alarm, they could see heavily
involved grain elevator looming many distant blocks away.
7 P.M. on Monday, May 5, 1930, Engine Company 10 responded over
twenty-five miles on mutual aid, to the Colony of Medford Lakes,
10 drafted from several lakes as the blaze burned to the edge of the
colony before being stopped. Engine Company 10 operated for nearly eleven
hours, returning to the City around 7 A.M. the following morning.
On March 1, 1932, units of the Department responded on mutual aid to the City of Pennsgrove for a conflagration involving fifty-seven buildings, mostly frame dwellings in the residential district. Serious water supply problems overwhelmed Salem County fire companies and caused the fire to rapidly spread from building to building, jumping across streets. Camden Fire Fighters placed apparatus on nearby wharfs and bulkheads along the Delaware River and drafted to control the blaze. Engine Companies 2 and 10 under the direction of Chief Thomas Nicholas positioned themselves directly in the path of the advancing inferno to cutoff the rapidly spreading fire. They worked with companies from Salem and were credited with halting the flames before they reached the business district.
the years of the Great Depression, the Federal Government formed the
W.P.A. (Works Progress Administration) which provided thousands
of jobs, predominantly
among public works
projects. The re-building of roads, bridges and infrastructure provided
temporary employment of a highly
constructive nature. In
the City of Camden, the Fire Department endeavored
to acquire a
high-pressure fire hydrant system. The proposed project
would install a high
pressure pumping station at the Delaware River
with a large diameter grid
supplying a separate network of hydrants. The network
would service the entire
center city area from the Delaware River to
7:15 A.M. on March 9, 1932,
grocer Benjamin Plevinsky while opening
by workmen, the fire fighters removed the charred and mangled bodies by
noon. It was believed that a spark from a workman's shovel or shoe nail
may have ignited vapors in the tank.
Public Service car barns at Tenth Street and Newton
Camden, were a series of block long, one-story garage buildings that
served as storage facilities for more than a hundred buses.
2:30 A.M. on the night of July
29, 1932, during a
driving rain storm, a
bolt of lightning started a fire in the large machine shop adjoining
the coach facility. The
blaze rapidly extended to exploding acetylene
and gasoline tanks.
Three alarms were transmitted in quick succession
as companies attempted
an aggressive interior attack with big handlines.
With fire roaring over
the heads of advancing fire fighters, Chief
following a seven year
tenure, Chief of Department Thomas Nicholas retired.
Chief John Lennox was appointed as his successor. "Chappie Lennox" was an old time
fireman - a
product of the long passed horse drawn era.
Chief Lennox was known as a
stern but fair man and
the men of the department respected
him as a competent
leader. Many members of the Department marveled
at the Chief s physical
ability to withstand punishing conditions particularly
for a man of his age. Even in
his sixties, stories abounded about hot,
vicious cellar fires with
smoke conditions that sapped even the most seasoned of veteran firemen.
While entire companies of men
were laid out with chins to the floor, trying to advance a line down a
long hall under conditions of murderous heat and smoke, Chappie
cigar clenched in his teeth would walk over them and stand upright near
the nozzleman. Firemen often joked, half seriously, that it was his
blunt cigar that filtered the toxic atmosphere. John Lennox
Chief of Department for fourteen years.
January 1, 1933, and at the height of the Great Depression, Engine
Companies 4 and 5 were disbanded from service as a measure of fiscal
constraint. An ensuing fiscal crisis caused a near default of municipal
government. The City briefly suspended its municipal payroll and then
issued "scrip" to Police and Fire Fighters - negotiable
certificates that were redeemable as local currency.
Division of Fire Prevention was organized within the Bureau of Fire on
July 1, 1933. A Fire Marshal of civilian grade, outside the ranks of the
Uniformed Force was appointed to this position.
the very hot day of July 10, 1933, yet another near conflagration
occurred at the C.B. Coles & Sons lumberyard on Kaighns Point at the
Delaware River. Five alarms from Box 31 were transmitted for a rapidly
spreading fire involving an entire block bounded by Front Street, Second
Street, Kaighn Avenue and Mechanic Street. Before the blaze could be
controlled, the lumberyard, a row of dwellings, a warehouse, a garage,
and two colonial houses were destroyed. Twenty-three persons were left
homeless while damage exceeded $300,000.
September 1, 1933, a citywide alarm assignment index was appropriated to
all firehouses. This index at the housewatch desk provided a standard
listing of all fire company responses, first through fourth alarms,
including automatic transfers for relocation, for every Box in the City.
after 1 A.M. on February 14, 1934, a fire was discovered in the basement
of the Hitchner Building at Fifth and Mickle Streets, South Camden. The
Chief of the 1st Battalion ordered a second alarm on arrival
as more fighters struggled to hold the blaze in the basement. Their best
efforts were unsuccessful as the blaze extended to involve a vacant
farmer's market on the first floor. In the aftermath of this fire, 250
garment workers joined the ranks of the unemployed.
A new fire alarm central office was opened on the eighth floor of City Hall on April 13, 1934. The new facility replaced the old fire alarm office on Haddon Avenue at the former City Hall building which was opened during the previous century. The new facility remained in operation until 1977 when fire communication services were transferred to a regional central office for the entire County of Camden.
just six months earlier as the City's newest movie house, the Broadway
Theater on Broadway
Street, center city, was an ornate
design in the art deco style of the period. A prominent marquee
embellished in gold trim, the grand facade above replete in ceramic
portals and scrolls amid imposing gargoyles, ''The Broadway" was
what historians today call "the lost movie palaces
of the past". At 4 A.M. on April 29, 1934, a night watchman
discovered the stage curtain aflame in the auditorium. By the time fire
companies arrived, the building was heavily involved. Second and third
alarms were quickly transmitted as high winds whipped the flames
out over Broadway
to expose adjoining stores and
apartment buildings opposite the fire. Heavy fire conditions caused
members to withdraw from the interior of the theater just in
time, as roof and parapets collapsed
Chief Lennox directed companies coming in on the third alarm to stretch
big lines to the roof of the Myers & Lappin Building across Broadway,
develop heavy streams on the fire.
blaze occurred only hours before capacity crowds were expected to view a
matinee and guest appearance by "Hoot Gibson", a noted cowboy
July 5, 1934, a School of Instruction for fire service training was
organized at Fire Headquarters, Fifth & Arch
Streets. The school was
staffed by a Fire Officer and an Assistant Drillmaster. A hose tower was
use as a drill tower in the rear yard, with converted classroom space in
the basement of the building.
George Lee of the New York Shipyard Police discovered a
fire in a 200 x 70 foot warehouse on October 4, 1935. As he
transmitted the initial alarm from the power house, other yard employees
also reported the blaze to security
at the main gate. Box 312 was pulled by the officer at the Broadway
gate at 12:45 A.M.
Chief Lennox ordered a third alarm on his arrival as
fire roared from large roof ventilators. Stored at the south end of the
warehouse were large quantities of benzene, gasoline and other
explosive cleaning solvents. Fire fighters pressed an all out attack and
prevented the blaze from spreading
to these inflammable stores. Fireman William Merrigan of
Engine Company 10 was buried under a falling partition wall. He was
rescued by other members of his unit, who had themselves narrowly
escaped the collapse. As
the wind shifted, acid fumes were carried to a large crowd
of spectators causing some panic. Under severe radiant heat, the
fronts of fifteen dwellings
on the east side of Broadway
between Lester and Gordon Terrace
exposed. These properties were saved only through the tenacious efforts
of Camden's Bravest. Within forty-five minutes the spectacular blaze was
contained to the warehouse but not before imposing a $50,000 property
in 1920 and following just sixteen years of service to the far regions
of South Camden, Ladder Company 4 at 2500 Morgan Boulevard was disbanded
on July 5, 1936 as a measure of fiscal constraint during the throes of
the Great Depression.
were just five Greater Alarms for 1937, none of which went beyond a
second alarm assignment.
midnight on February 4, 1937, Ladder Company 2 rescued a woman and new
born baby from a blazing building at Box 358, Locust Street
South Camden. The infant survived but the mother
succumbed to severe
9:30 P.M. on Monday, March 25, 1937,a second alarm was
transmitted for Box 34
and Kaighn Avenue, South Camden for a basement
fire in a shoe store
that extended to the loft above. Deputy Chief of Department
Walter Mertz was seriously injured in a twenty foot fall from
a roof of an exposure
under heavy smoke conditions. He sustained a
broken back with some
2:30 in the afternoon on
Saturday, May 1, 1937, off duty Fireman
Getner of Engine Company 11 rescued a woman and her nine day old from
a smoky blaze in frame dwelling on 18th Street near River Avenue, Cramer
Hill before the arrival of companies. Both victims survived.
8 P.M. on Sunday, May 30, 1937, Engine Company 2 and Ladder Company 1
were special called to the Pennsylvania side of the Benjamin Franklin
Bridge to extinguish an extension fire involving wooden railroad ties on
the bridge line. The track bed was ignited by embers originating from
a big pier fire on the Philadelphia waterfront.
were six Greater Alarms during 1938, two of which were
third alarm incidents.
the evening of January 10, 1938 around 8:30 P.M., Box 373 was
transmitted for Third and Spruce
Streets, South Camden. The fire
originated in a rag shop and communicated to an adjoining junkyard near
Locust and Cherry
Three alarms were pulled for this blaze which produced spectacular
smoke conditions visible for miles around.
On February 9, 1938 seven men were overcome by gas in a railroad tank car at the old Pavonia car shop, Twenty-fourth street and Sherman Avenue, fortunately, a quick response averted any fatalitis. This near-tragedy prompted Public Safety Director Mary Walsh Kobus to order additional fire fighting and rescue equipment, including gas masks, oxygen tanks, inhalators, grappling hooks to be used in drowning cases, a large type life net, additional chemical generators for combating gasoline and oil fires, and "wind breakers" for fire apparatus not equipped with windshields was authorized.
Shortly after 1 A.M. on March 28th, Box 34 at Broadway and Kaighn Avenue was transmitted for another third alarm involving a four story commercial building on Broadway. The ground floor was occupied by the McCrory five and dime with a hat factory and office space on the floors above. The fire started in the basement and fed upon heavy merchandise extending to the upper floors. Tremendous smoke conditions blanketed the South Camden area as units were kept from entering the building for nearly four hours. Three members were treated for severe smoke inhalation.
especially tough blaze occurred near Seventh Street and Kaighn Avenue,
South Camden at 6:30 P.M. on Wednesday, December 21, 1938. A verbal
alarm at the quarters of Engine Company 8 turned both units out for heavy
smoke pushing from a two-story tire shop. The exterior walls on both
ever active area for serious fires, Box 34 at Broadway
and Kaighn Avenue was again transmitted near 4:30 A.M. on January 31,1939. A cellar fire
in a drug store produced acrid smoke conditions as the fire extended to
2:30 in the afternoon on Saturday, March 4th, Box 376 at Eighth Street
Thursday, June 29, 1939 at 7 P.M., a three alarm blaze destroyed a
warehouse near 15th and Federal
Camden. Spectacular smoke
and fire conditions for over two hours resulted in more than $100,000 in
evening of November 10thwas a particularly busy tour. Shortly after 6
P.M., units of the 1st Battalion rescued several children over ladders
from the top floor of a three-story building at 320 Market Street,
center city. Near 6:30 P.M. just one block away, another working fire
heavily damaged a three-story commercial building at 324 Arch
few minutes later, yet another
serious blaze occurred near 29th Street and River Road,
involving a big occupied frame.
November 28, around 7:30 A.M., a smoky second alarm for Box 214 at 26th
Camden, involved an A&P Supermarket. On
November 25th near 2:30 A.M., Box 215 was transmitted for a working fire
near 26th Street and River Avenue,
Hill. Firemen Getner and
Peterson of Engine Company 11 rescued a man and woman from a heavily
involved frame building with a barber shop on the ground floor.
GREAT CITY BECOMES
1940's were to be years of extraordinary change, not only in the City of
Camden but throughout the country. As the decade began, war was raging
both in Europe and on the Chinese mainland. The United States was
emerging from the Depression
years to become the" Arsenal of Democracy". Soon the nation
would become fully entrenched in these wars and, with victory in both
Europe and the Pacific, would have to deal with a new post-war era.
war years would bring economic prosperity to Camden. Its factories and
shipyards worked around the clock to produce the materials needed to
fight the war. Bombing raids on London and the menacing presence of
German submarines off the coasts of New Jersey and Delaware, triggered
concern that the continental United States itself might be subject to
A Civil Defense agency was established, with thousands of volunteer air raid wardens, auxiliary police and firemen, heavy rescue workers and first aid personnel, trained to support the professionals in the event of attack.
Camden prepared to fight the new enemy, an old enemy, fire, continued to
take its toll in lives and property. The decade opened with one of the
worst fires in City history.
Tuesday, July 30, 1940, a fire broke out at the
R.M. Hollingshead plant,
an industrial complex of large factory buildings at Tenth and Market
Streets in center city. The plant manufactured a variety of highly
inflammable products including floor wax, furniture polish, and
cigarette lighter fluid.
City had been suffering through a two week heat wave, with temperatures
soaring over the 100 degree mark. Box 61 at Ninth and Penn Streets was
transmitted at 1:15 P.M. following an explosion in the northeast corner
of a five story factory building. Just two minutes later, Box 184 at
Streets was also pulled for the same incident. A
raging fire ensued and the fourth alarm was received at 1:39P.M. Camden
Mayor George Brunner made an urgent call to Philadelphia Mayor Lamberton
asking for help. Mayor Lamberton at once called his Public Safety
Commissioner, James H. Malone, ordering Philadelphia to "Give
Camden all the help she needs - now!" Malone relayed the order to
Deputy Chief Engineer William Simmer and within two minutes,
Philadelphia Fire Companies were rolling over the bridge. Thirteen
minutes later they were pumping water on the fire. At that time,
Philadelphia was using two-piece engine companies with hose wagons and
pumpers. Units of the Philadelphia Fire Department that initially
responded were Engine Companies 8, 17, 21, 27 and 33, with Trucks 9 and
radiant heat generated by the blaze, coupled with a water shortage
caused by heavy demand during the heat wave, made effective firefighting
especially difficult. Engine companies were forced to draft water from
the Cooper River, one-half mile away from
the fire. Worse, some 28 explosions rocked the plant as stores of
gasoline, naptha, paint and grease were ignited. The fire spread to
involve other factory buildings in the Hollingshead complex, and also
extended to scores of surrounding dwellings and businesses.
fire burned throughout the night and into the following day. The next
morning explosive experts had to be called in to dynamite the ruins
allowing firemen to get at the remaining fire and finally bring the
inferno under control.
fire again flared on Thursday and it was not until Sunday, five days
after the initial blast, that the blaze was finally extinguished. Ten
employees of the plant were killed in this fire as well as Fireman
William Merrigan of Engine Company 3 who died of heat exhaustion. Over
400 persons were left homeless and damage exceeded $1 million dollars.
interesting postscript to this fire was told in a story by the late
Battalion Chief John
Letts, who at the time of the fire was not yet a
member of the
action by the quick thinking barber effectively stemmed the flow of
blood as the poor man was rushed to the hospital.
devastation had been avoided when some unidentified youths climbed
aboard a train of steaming tank cars parked on a rail siding adjacent to
the complex, and opened the hatches relieving pressure upon thousands of
gallons of heated naptha. Grateful neighbors reported the heroic action
of the teens to a nearby Policeman. When the officer called to the
youths, they quickly fled the scene. Because the Policeman was unable to
get their names, the boys could not be recognized for their brave deed.
than 50 years following this incident and while conducting research,
E. Ryan described that same incident in which he had participated. He
said that he and his friends had heard onlookers expressing fears of
further explosions which prompted him and his companions to react by
opening the hatch covers. When called by the Policeman, they had run
away fearing they were in trouble. Fire Fighter James Ryan of Engine
Company 6 is the grandson of Mr. Lee E. Ryan, that brave youth from so
7 P.M. on January 17, 1940, Box 37 at Mt. Ephraim and Kaighn
transmitted for a verbal alarm received by Engine Company 7 for a fire
at Orchard and Sycamore Street, South Camden. A second alarm was soon
pulled for row frame dwellings as many frozen hydrants hampered
worked among numerous hydrants with thawing devices before
adequate water was finally obtained. On January 22nd, another second alarm
hampered by frozen hydrants heavily damaged a wallpaper store at street
level and a transient hotel on the floors above. Box 127 at Front and
Market Streets was transmitted for this fire. On June 20th near 9:30
A.M., a third alarm at
Haddon Avenue and Line Street, South Camden, heavily damaged a
livery warehouse. The building measured sixty feet high, 75 feet wide
and 300 feet deep. At the time of the fire, one hundred automobiles,
more than half of which were brand new, were stored in the building. All
of the vehicles were saved as firemen drove car after car, out of the
burning warehouse under heavy
10 P.M. on Wednesday, July 31, 1940, the night following the Hollingshead
conflagration, a second alarm was pulled for Box 312 at Broadway
and Morgan Streets in
the New York Shipyard. A smoky fire originating in the boiler
room of the Seaplane Tender Curtis, extended to the overhead funnels and
scaffolding while docked in Wet Slip #6. While much of the Department
was still operating at the Hollingshead
ruins on Cooper
second alarm at the shipyard was answered by mutual aid units from
the municipalities of
Audubon, Gloucester, Haddon Heights, Merchantville and Woodlynne.
the early morning hours of Friday, October 11, 1940, a verbal alarm
conflagration of July 1940 was only the prelude to a very busy
decade for the
Department. The winter and spring of ' 41 were particularly active.
after 9:30 A.M. on Sunday, January 12, 1941, Box 64 at Fifth and
8 P.M. on January 15th, Box 374 at Sixth and Spruce
transmitted for a phone alarm
January 15, 1941, units of the Third Battalion had just taken up from a
On February 16th at 6:30 A.M., a passing milkman turned in the alarm for an explosion and fire in an occupied dwelling at 28th Street and Adams Avenue, Cramer Hill. A father and son were killed in this fire resulting from a faulty oil burner, while a second son was critically burned but survived.
March 2nd at 9:30 P.M., Deputy Chief
Walter Mertz transmitted
a second alarm for a
heavily involved frame dwelling at Clinton and
Henry Streets, South
Camden, when fire communicated to the roof of the adjoining
Camden Chemical Company.
This extension was quickly extinguished.
Monday, March 10, 1941, a fire near Seventh and Pine
Streets, South Camden,
nearly claimed the life of the occupant. Acting Captain John
Naylor and Fireman Joseph
A. Gfrorer of
Ladder Company 2, rescued a woman from the
floor above under punishing conditions. The victim was removed by
portable ladder with the
assistance of Fireman Herman
March 18, 1941, firemen
arrived at a working fire in a vacant dwelling at
Chelton Avenue and
Mulford Street, South Camden. As members were
Later that Tuesday, units of the Second Battalion rescued two small children from a blazing dwelling at 32nd Street and Merriel Avenue, East Camden.
On Wednesday, March 19th, companies responded to the New York Shipyard on lower Broadway below Morgan Street for yet another fire aboard the new Battleship South Dakota. Upon arrival, members found the fire quickly extinguished by the yard's fire brigade with no reportable damage. Another fire on the same ship during the previous November resulted in nearly a score of men being overcome from fumes originating from a smoldering oxy-acetylene hose left in the hull. Ever mindful of sabotage, yard officials emphasized that both incidents were accidental in nature, following careful investigations.
A week later on March 26, 1941, another accidental fire on the main deck of the unfinished, ten-thousand ton Cruiser Columbia, was quickly extinguished by Camden Fire Fighters without remarkable damage.
On April 5th another second alarm heavily damaged a Cocktail Lounge at Broadway and Spruce Streets. Firemen feared that the blaze might spread to the adjoining Towers Theater. An aggressive attack quickly brought the fire under control, causing only minor water damage to the grand old movie house.
Sunday afternoon, April 20, 1941, the Department provided unusual mutual
aid services to two different communities in Burlington and Ocean
Counties. Shortly after 2:30 P.M., Engine Company 6 relocated to
Lakewood, New Jersey and covered the local fire station during a huge
forest fire in Ocean County. Later that afternoon at 4 P.M., Engine
Company 9 was special called to Taunton Lakes, New Jersey for another
forest fire extended to a residential area. Engine 9 stretched a supply
line from a Woodbury pumper and saved a row of six frame dwellings. Both
units returned to the City later that Sunday evening.
Shortly after 7 A.M. on May 23, 1941, a Box was transmitted for a fire at West and Clinton Streets, South Camden. Arriving companies found a three-story commercial building with fire roaring one hundred feet into the sky. A second alarm was transmitted on arrival, followed by third and fourth alarms ordered by Chief John Lennox. The building contained a food market on the ground floor and a clothing factory above. At the height of the blaze, Firemen Clarence McMullen and James Creato narrowly escaped with their lives after a burst of flame nearly enveloped them as they forced an interior door to a shaft. Both members fought their way out under the cover of hose streams directed by their comrades. Chief of Department Lennox and four firemen while at the far end of the blazing building on West Street, heard the shrill cries for help coming from a nearby dwelling. Racing into the home of Mrs. Elizabeth O'Hanlon at 423 Clinton Street, they found an excited albeit unscathed parrot, in a kitchen birdcage still crying for help. The bird was carried to safety by the firemen. The blaze was brought under control at 10:30 A.M. but not before heavily damaging the block long building.
June 11th, an explosion and fire at the Crystal commercial laundry plant
in South Camden killed one employee and injured three others.
story in the Courier Post of August 14, 1941, reported that the
Department used a new piece of equipment for the first time while
extinguishing a blaze near Seventh and Chestnut Streets, South Camden.
This new appliance enabled firemen to connect two leads of inch and
one-half hose to the larger two and one-half inch line, thereby
providing two independent streams of water and allowing firemen to
access areas they previously had difficulty reaching. Acting Chief
Leonard Magee praised this new device called the wye, and predicted its
widespread use in the future.
On August 20, 1941 shortly after 3 A.M., Box 351 at Fillmore Street and Chelton Avenue was transmitted for a fire at the Camden Brewery. First arriving units found fire showing in a three-story building housing the pumping plant. A second alarm was quickly ordered as thousands of workers At the nearby New York Shipyard on Broadway, watched firemen stage a successful fight in preventing the fire from extending to the adjoining eight-story Brewery building.
September 2, 1941, a thunderous explosion at the powerhouse of the RCA
complex at Delaware Avenue and Cooper
Street rocked the South
September 9th, a third alarm
for a clothing store at 1122 Broadway, South Camden, finished out a
On Halloween, October 31, 1941, units were kept busy with accidental blazes including two working fires - one at Sixth Street and Newton Avenue, South Camden and another at Wildwood and Princess Avenues, Parkside. Both fires were caused by paper-mache pumpkins containing lighted candles. Interestingly, there were no reported fire incidents associated with "Mischief Night" activities that would become so prevalent in later years.
Saturday, November 22nd, an elderly woman burned to death in a hot,
vicious fire at Front and Danenhower
Camden; and on
Thanksgiving Day, November 25th, a spectacular third alarm destroyed the
Adams Furniture Warehouse at Locust Street and Kaighn Avenue, South
Camden. At 3:45 A.M. a milkman discovered the fire and flagged down a
passing police car who sounded the alarm. 3rd Battalion Chief Laurence
Newton as the first arriving unit, found heavy fire gaining headway in
the building and quickly transmitted a second alarm.
Chief of Department Lennox would transmit a third alarm and while the warehouse was heavily
damaged, firemen prevented the blaze from extending to nearby dwellings.
November 28, 1941, a working fire at 23rd and High Streets, East
Camden injured one civilian and two fire fighters; and on December 3rd,
another Greater Alarm destroyed four row dwellings on Chelton Avenue
near Sixth Street, South Camden.
Second World War placed heavy demands upon the Department.
of the first class of
thirty auxiliary firemen to enter the School of Instruction was
W. Earl Doan of 533 Elm Street, North
Camden. Mr. Doan remained active
in the auxiliary force well into the late nineteen-sixties. Also an
avid fire buff, Earl
never missed an opportunity to turnout at Greater Alarms with the
Fire Canteen. At the age of 87 (in 1994) he currently makes his home in Collingswood,
N.J. and even now, he may be seen attending major fires throughout
while anticipating a heavy water demand in the event of
measure of defense readiness concerned the use of air raid warning
devices for public notification. Air raid sirens were installed
on the roofs of local
industries, businesses and public buildings as well as firehouses.
sense of increased urgency
was evident in a municipal directive issued
number of Federal Decrees were also enacted regulating public conduct in
the event of air raid warnings. With the sounding of alarms, all
civilian traffic must stop and everyone must seek shelter. One new
Federal Regulation prohibited fire apparatus from using sirens in
response to alarms. Under war-time regulations, sirens would be reserved
exclusively for air raid warnings.
The use of audible warning devices by fire apparatus was restricted to bells only. The burden to both fire fighters and the public safety was formidable. On March 1, 1942, the inevitable happened. Engine Company 8 while responding to an alarm was involved in a collision with a ten ton truck at Third Street and Kaighn Avenue. Upon impact all of the firemen were thrown into the street. The truck driver declared that he failed to hear the bells of the approaching apparatus. The mishap resulted in injuries to six members and total destruction of the apparatus. Captain Alvin Thompson was listed in critical condition, while Firemen Mitchell Wojkowiak, Philip Farrow, Leonard Oshushek, Lawrence Boulton and Edwin Robbins were admitted for lesser injuries. Battalion Chief Newton stated that he believed the accident might have been avoided if fire companies were not prohibited from using sirens.
On Kaighn Avenue when the motorist said he did not hear the apparatus
Kaighn Avenue when the motorist said he did not hear the apparatus coming.
war-time regulations would continue to hamper the Department for the
next three years. Deputy Chief Charles
registered a complaint
to see what could be done about lifting the ban.
Chief of Department Lennox, also a member of the Civil Defense Council,
complained to Rhone that something must be done. "The Department is
seriously short handed as we had fifteen members on medical leave when
the accident occurred. Firemen continue to be called into the Armed
Forces and the situation has become serious. While we are training 600
new Auxiliary Firemen, such training takes time and it will be sometime
until the job is completed". Conditions did not improve as
additional government rules were enacted. In addition to the ban on
sirens, fire apparatus would also be prohibited from using warning
lights and headlights while responding to alarms under
"blackout" conditions. Companies were required to use a blue
shield over headlights and cautiously respond at low speeds without
warning devices. And the war raged on.
January 5, 1942, members extinguished a smoky fire below decks on the
light cruiser Santa Fe, under construction at the New York Shipyard. The
blaze was caused by welder's torches and was made especially arduous for
firemen in the absence of masks and breathing apparatus.
On January 10th, a Box was transmitted for a structural fire at Congress and Republic Roads, Fairview. Companies found a fully involved shed in the rear. This structure was one of the City's first Air Raid Shelters, erected by a home owner to be used in the event of Enemy Attack.
February 23rd, fire fighters rescued two men over ladders from the third
floor of a rooming house near Seventh and Market Streets, while six
other occupants fled to safety. Fire Dispatcher James Burke on his way
to work saw a youth pulling the Alarm Box at Eighth and Market Streets.
Burke quickly seized the boy who he thought was sounding a false alarm.
He immediately released the youth upon learning that there was an actual
fire in progress, and proceeded to the address to help awaken sleeping
occupants and evacuate the building.
March 14, 1942, a civilian ran to the quarters of Engine
Company 1 and
reported a verbal alarm for an explosion and fire at the Lester Clothing
and Jewelry Store, Broadway
Streets Upon arrival, Acting
Deputy Chief William Van Pfefferle transmitted a second alarm for heavy
fire on two floors.
took fire fighters nearly two hours to gain control of the blaze with
damage estimates exceeding $100,000. One member, Fireman Stephen Szwak
of Engine Company 8, was removed from the scene for an injury.
headlines of the Courier Post for March 24, 1942, read "Six Flee As
April 3rd, units of the 1st Battalion were responding to an
alarm at Point
and Erie Streets, North
Camden. A group of children were
on their way to a birthday party for nine-year-old, Betty Mogck. The
group of excited birthday celebrants, hearing the fire engines coming,
ran into the street to see where they were going. As Engine Company 2
was making the turn at Erie Street, the Chauffeur, Fireman Harry
Kleinfelder pulled hard on the wheel to avoid running over the children
but not before striking little Betty Mogck. The apparatus swerved to the
side of the street, sheared off a utility pole and came to rest on the
pavement. Two members were hurled to the ground, slightly injured.
Betty's older brother, John, was down the block talking with friends and
came running up the street. Betty Mogck was rushed to Cooper Hospital
suffering from a broken leg. Firemen William Hopkins and Harry Haines
were treated for bruises and released. Years later, Betty's brother,
John J. Mogck, Jr. would himself enter the Department and rise from the
ranks of Probationary Fireman to retire as Chief of Department.
EVOLUTION OF FIRE
to 1955, the Department did not have the services of two-way radio
communications. Units that left the firehouse in response to alarms,
remained out of service until they returned to quarters. Upon arriving
at the scene, companies would have to contact the Fire Dispatcher via
residential telephone or from the nearest alarm box. At the scene of
serious fires, the Chief would dispatch his aide to the nearest street
box to transmit a second alarm or special calls via a telegraph key
inside the box. A preliminary signal of two taps followed by the box
number would summon a second alarm and three taps for a third alarm.
preliminary signal known as the three threes would transmit a
general alarm for the entire Department except for the far regions of East
Camden and Cramer
Hill. For all boxes east of the Cooper River, a
preliminary signal known as the two threes would transmit a
modified general alarm response summoning a lesser number of units.
Signa12-3121 would transmit a second alarm for Box 3121 at Collings and
Atlanta Roads, Fairview. Signal 3-416 would summon a third alarm to Box
416 at 2nd and Pine
Streets; Signal 4-393
would transmit a fourth alarm for Box 393 at Front and Mt. Vernon
Streets; Signal 3-3-3-95
would transmit a general alarm for Box 95 at Broadway
Streets; and Signal 3-3-253 would transmit a general
Calls for individual units were transmitted from the field by alarm box
telegraph key. Five taps would indicate an engine; six taps a hook &
ladder; seven taps a chief; eight taps a hose or chemical company; and
nine taps a fuel wagon. The preliminary signal often taps would indicate
a special call followed by the type of unit needed, the level of the
alarm, and finally the box number. Signal 10-6-4-181 would special call
an additional ladder company on the fourth Alarm to Box 181 at Point
April 4, 1942, the Police and Fire Departments announced a cooperative
venture whereby a police car would respond to every fire alarm to
provide rapid radio communications. Later in 1955, police radios would
be installed in all Chief s vehicles, and by 1961 every apparatus in the
Department would be equipped with mobile radio communications on a
dedicated fire frequency.
acquiring a dedicated radio frequency, the Department adopted for use a
series of radio code signals intended to promote brevity in voice
communications. Each signal by definition identified the type of alarm received
or the unit status of responding companies. When the dispatch was
announced the ONE-ONE Signal, responding units were directed to return
to headquarters. The ONE-THREE Signal indicated a false alarm and the
ONE-FOUR Signal a mistaken alarm. The most commonly used codes concerned
the most frequently occurring incidents. A Signal TWO-FOUR was announced
for structural fires; the TWO-SEVEN Signal for vehicles; a TWO-EIGHT for
outside rubbish fires and the TWO-NINE for grass. When units made
themselves available for service, they transmitted a Signal FIVE- TWO
and when they went out of service for administrative purposes, the
FIVE-ONE Signal was announced. And when units acknowledged receipt of
radio messages, they responded by stating TEN-FOUR. In later years, the
system of signals would be abandoned in favor of conventional language
the days of radio communications, fire alarms in the City Camden were
transmitted to fire companies in two ways. Department telephone for
still alarms; and over the primary and secondary circuits using gong and
register to transmit box alarms. The term "Fire Board"
originated from the old PBX switchboard that served as the principal
piece of communications
equipment in the fire alarm central office for use in dispatching fire
companies. The dispatcher
would plug the PBX jack into the switchboard call the appropriate
firehouse. A long slow ring was used for non-emergency calling. A series
of short fast rings known as the "jingle" was used to alert
of an incoming alarm.
to the adoption of the automated Gamewell transmitter, Boxes were
transmitted over the primary circuit by manual telegraph key. A four
round transmission for Box 396
required seventy-two "blows" on the joker key to transact the
alarm. Indeed in some cities where Box 9990 was manually
fire companies in the City of Camden maintained a unit status board that
"kept score" of the availability of all companies citywide.
When a Box was released over the automated transmitter to firehouses,
the Housewatchman would decipher the incoming signal, reference the
index file determine location
of the Box and the company assigned, and then consult the status
peak periods of high fire activity when the dispatcher was holding as
many as five and six Boxes preparing to transmit each one in successive
order, the automated transmitter demanded special attention. If the
previous Box was not cleared from the transmitter, the dispatcher ran
the risk of erroneously sending it out a second time, especially if
distracted. Fire Dispatchers
were taught to religiously exercise the sequential method of ~
"SET-DUMP-CLEAR" for every alarm transaction. The numerical
identity of the Box would be set up on the transmitter; the transmission
punched to dump the
Box from the transmitter on to the circuit; and after four rounds were
completed, the clearance key would be depressed clearing the automated
transmitter for the next alarm. The erroneous transmission of the same
Box for a second time was not a concern under the old manual system as
dispatchers processed each individual alarm by telegraph key with
virtually no chance of redundant error. Indeed, some improvements
in technology did not come without additional demands. In any event, by
1968 the adoption of a hard wire voice alarm and radio communications as
the principal means for transmitting alarms, supplanted the use of gong
and register circuits.
April 5, 1942, Fireman Frank Iannelli of Engine Company 9 made the
May 14, 1942, fire fighters worked for over an hour to rescue a
fifteen-year old boy buried under the collapse of a vacant building at
Ninth & Pearl
On September 17th, yet another fire at
the New York Shipyard
broke out in the engine room of the aircraft
carrier Independence. A welder's torch was again to blame as firemen
took a shellacking below decks, under heavy smoke conditions. Later that
same day a domestic dispute at Sixth and Division
Streets resulted in a
serious fire that threatened a number of row frame dwellings. A husband
threw a lighted kerosene lamp at his spouse, missed and set the building
ablaze. The ensuing effort by fire fighters saved the block while the
man was arrested and later jailed for sixty days.
November 19, 1942, a
spectacular third alarm with numerous special calls for a paper
warehouse at Front Street and
Kaighn Avenue, South Camden, took five
hours to control. There were so many apparatus and hose lines clogging
the streets surrounding the fire, that ferry service on the Delaware
River had to be shut down delaying thousands of employees from
Pennsylvania on their way to work at several Camden War Defense Plants.
December 22nd, a stubborn third alarm at the Armstrong Cork Works,
Jefferson Street and the Delaware River South Camden, summoned fire
boats from the City of Philadelphia. The production building faced the
river where corkboard was
baked in super heated steam ovens and processed as insulation.
the height of the fire, Captain George Saunders of Engine Company 6
suffered a heart attack while advancing a line to the third floor. He
was removed to Cooper Hospital where he later recovered.
Chief of Department Lennox commended all units on their work in saving the large
New Year of 1943 was ushered in with a second alarm on January 2nd, for
Master Street near Ferry Avenue. The fire extended to involve three
vacant buildings. Engine Company 3 first due on the Box was delayed by a
long, slow moving freight train at a grade crossing. The 6:30 A.M. blaze
was fought in frigid temperatures and the Salvation Army Canteen under
the direction of Major Harrison, was special called to service the
frozen fire fighters.
January 12th, the Department answered twenty alarms in a twenty-four
hour period. Deputy Chief
Walter Mertz stated that it was the busiest 24
hour period in recent history. There were one hundred alarms in the City
during the first ten days of the new' year while the monthly average was
usually 112 alarms. The following day on January 13th, another second
alarm at the Cooper School, Third
and Linden Streets, would heavily
damage the 71 year-old structure and leave 500 students without
classrooms. The building was erected in 1871 and condemned as a fire
trap in 1940. The property was subsequently modernized in 1942 under
W.P.A. Yet another second alarm for
January 29, 1943,a barking dog was
credited with saving the lives of five occupants who were overcome by
coal gas fumes at their residence on 36th Street near Fremont
Camden. Attending firemen, trained in first aid, worked for
over one-half hour before two unconscious men were revived. The alert
canine was also saved.
the morning of February 8th, the dispatcher struck the Box for a
reported building at Sixth and Van
Hook Streets, South Camden. Arriving
first due, 3rd Battalion Chief Laurence
Newton was greeted in the street
by a hysterical woman screaming that her baby was trapped on the second
floor. The Chief bounded into the building and made his way up the smoke
filled stairway. He pushed into a rear bedroom off the stairs and found
the child in its crib, the adjoining bed ablaze with fire lapping up the
Newton carried the boy to safety just as the first due
engine was arriving. 3rd Battalion Aide, Fireman Anthony Valentine,
placed the child in the chief s car and rushed him to West Jersey
Hospital where he was treated for bums and serious smoke inhalation.
Row as it was called, located along Federal
Street near Tenth, was so
named because of the ornate stone and marble facades upon a number of
prominent buildings. On Thursday, March 4th, a fire originating in a
multiple dwelling near Tenth and Federal
Streets quickly extended to
adjoining properties on both sides. Four families fled the smoke and
fire as a second alarm assignment was summoned to control the blaze.
Chief ' Aide, Fireman Clarence McMullen was treated for minor bum
On May 25, 1943, a carnival was held on lower Broadway near Chelton Avenue. The event was staged to raise funds in support of Third District Air Raid Wardens. Twenty-four tents and several mobile trailers were erected at the site. A discarded cigarette started a fire in a large 40 x 50 foot tent which communicated to outside awnings attached to a five ton merchandise trailer. Captain James Young of Ladder Company 2 was treated for burn injuries resulting from this incident.
annual report of the Department for the year ending December 31,
1943, reported a total of 1648 alarms citywide, an increase of four
hundred alarms over the previous year.
January 1944, the Civil Defense agency under the direction of Chief Air
Thursday evening January 6th, a huge drill involving over four thousand
April 10, 1944, Police and Firemen from Camden joined their counterparts
a fiscal measure in early 1940, the City disbanded the 2nd Battalion
Headquarters in East
Camden. As a result, the Chief of the First
Headquarters in East
Camden. As a result, the Chief of the First
On April 22, 1944, a second alarm occurred at Berwick and Boyd Streets, East Camden, involving nine occupied dwellings where fire fighters performed numerous rescues. Chief William Van Pfefferle, 1st Battalion and his Aide, Fireman Earl Toy, were responding on the first alarm when they collided with a transit bus at 18th and Federal Streets. The Aide was killed and the Chief injured. In the wake of this tragic mishap, the 2nd Battalion was reorganized at its former location.
the Second World War came to a close, many firemen who had been
Christmas Eve 1945 at 10:30 in
the morning, a spectacular fire destroyed
A month later on January 24, 1946, another fire broke out in a rooming house on Broadway near Jasper Street, South Camden. As many occupants fled the smoky blaze, a first floor tenant ran across the street to the quarters of Engine Company 3. Captain Edward R. MacDowell received the verbal alarm, notified the dispatcher to transmit the Box, and then turned the company out.
"Two Truck" entered Broadway
from Kaighn Avenue, a police
after 10 P.M. on February 20, 1946, yet another Broadway Spectacular
occurred in the S.S. Kresge Department Store at 29-33 Broadway
Street. First arriving units found heavy smoke
billowing from the
after midnight, a backdraft injured five members as flames raced
Following the long war years and the delays associated with replacing aging apparatus fleet, in 1947 the Department took delivery of two new tractor and tiller aerial ladders manufactured by Peter Pirsch. A 100' model replaced a wooden aerial at Ladder Company 2, South Camden; and an 85' aerial replaced an old city service truck at Ladder Company 3, East Camden. The 1947 Pirsch at Ladder Company 2 would see twenty years of extremely heavy fire duty in first line service until its replacement in 1967.
February of 1947,
Chief of Department John H. Lennox passed away at the
age of 66 following a long illness. As the last Chief Engineer from the
horse drawn era, the death of Chappie Lennox
would close a glorious chapter
in the history of the Department. Deputy Chief
Walter Mertz would
be appointed interim chief, a position he would hold in an acting
capacity until 1950.
his budget address before City Council on January 9, 1948, Commissioner
David S. Rhone testified that "the Department is so undermanned
January 12, 1948, Firemen Elwood Menzies of
Engine Company 8 died in the
line of duty during a working fire at 713 Blaine
Street, South Camden.
Firemen Menzies was connecting a hose line to the apparatus when
1949, the City awarded a contract to American La France Fire Equipment
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