The Camden Fire
A Catastrophic Meeting

August 18, 1975


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 website.

The years 1864-18731874-1885, 1912-1928, 1929-1950, 1980-1990 are presented on other webpages.

For profiles of individual fire fighters of years gone by, go to the Camden Fire Department Uniformed Personnel Index or to the Interesting People of Camden web-page.

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 in December of 2008. Newspaper accounts and further information will be added in hopefully the near future.

Phil Cohen

From Camden Fire Department 1869-1994



Motor vehicle accidents involving fire apparatus, particularly while responding to alarms has always been one of many hazards inherent to the job. Collisions occurring between fire apparatus although infrequent, are especially terrifying and routinely result in devastating property damage and death. The cause of these mishaps can be attributed to a variety of reasons, but the circumstances under which they most often occur are two apparatus that intersect each other's path, usually while en route to the same alarm. Over the years the Camden Fire Department has certainly been no exception to these tragic mishaps.

The worst of such accidents occurred on a quiet Sunday afternoon, August 16, 1975, at Sixth and Pine Streets, South Camden. Shortly after 4 P.M., the dispatcher transmitted a Box for a reported vacant building at Sixth and Royden Streets. Engine Company 1 responding first due, got a late start from quarters. Their normal response route would carry them east on Pine Street across Broadway, and to the intersection of Sixth Street where they would swing left and proceed north on Sixth to Royden Street. Engine Company 8 responding second due from their firehouse on Kaighns Avenue, would have a straight and unobstructed run, out Sixth Street same twelve blocks to the fire. One's and Eight's used these response routes thousands of times while responding together, to reach many neighborhoods adjoining these thorofares. Usually by the time Engine 8 reached the intersection of Sixth and Pine Streets, One's was already long passed and well ahead of them several blacks. Rarely did these units cross each other's path on the way.

On that Sunday afternoon as Engine Company 1 crossed Broadway at Pine, Engine 8 already well underway, was roaring past Sixth and Spruce Streets rapidly approaching Pine from the south. The last thing that Engine Company 8 expected to see upon entering the intersection of Pine Street, was the blur of another apparatus turning left into its path. Bath apparatus were identical rigs, 1967 American LaFrance pumpers. The left front cab of Engine 8's pumper impacted along the side of One's apparatus forcing the rigs together in a pincer motion. The force of the impact caused both apparatus to bounce off each other and continue onward. Engine 8 mounted the sidewalk, apparatus running over a civilian while crashing through the front of an occupied grocery store, collapsing the front of the building. The inertia of the collision carried Engine 1 northward along Sixth Street far nearly half a block, hitting several parked cars before coming to a rest.

The Officer and driver of Engine Company 8 were trapped in the cab of the apparatus, pinned beneath the collapsed canopy of the pumper's roof. 

It took more than twenty minutes to extricate both members. The Captain suffered two broken ankles and a dislocated shoulder. The driver and both members riding in the rear jump seats suffered a variety of injuries including lacerations, serious contusions and sprains. A fire fighter riding in the jump seat of Engine 1 and on the side of impact, was momentarily compressed between the apparatus and suffered severe internal injury. The remainder of One's crew sustained a variety of non-life threatening injuries. Miraculously there were no fire fighter deaths in this grinding collision. Additional units were summoned to the accident, entered a scene of carnage which same fighters described as "looking like a war zone". Glass, debris, apparatus and broken equipment were scattered about the landscape for nearly a block in every direction.

The lone fatality involved the poor civilian bystander who was whisked off the sidewalk and crushed between the apparatus and the building. The pumpers were totaled and one fire fighter was permanently disabled, never returning to the job. Both apparatus would be replaced by 1975 Maxim engine-forward pumpers without crew seating and were procured on short notice as stock models. Their design was quite unusual for city service in that members were required to ride the backstep. These rigs were also the units in the Department to herald the adoption of the lime-yellow color, a departure from over 100 years of red fire apparatus. 

Camden Courier-Post * August 18, 1975

Fatal fire truck crash is blamed on their sirens

Courier-Post Staff

A Camden f ire official said he believes Saturday's collision of two fire trucks that killed one person and injured 14 others was caused by the inability of the drivers to hear each other‘s vehicle over their own sirens.

However. Acting First Battalion Chief Joseph Anderson stressed that he was only “theorizing" and that a full investigation of the crash would begin today. The two trucks, Engines One and Eight, collided at 6th and Pine Streets at about 5:15 pm, Saturday, Anderson said.

The impact of the crash sent Engine Eight, which was heading north on 6th Street, into the Livecchi grocery store while Engine One, which was head ing east on Pine Street, stopped safely about one block north on 6th Street, Anderson said.

The two vehicles were en route to the scene of a minor fire in a vacant house about two blocks from the scene of the collision. Anderson said another truck was called to extinguish the blaze.

Dead was 65-year-old Wilkins Tisdale, of 583 Line Street, Camden, according to Blair M. Murphy, an investigator for the Camden County Medical Examiner’s office, Murphy said the causes of death were internal injuries and a severed arm.

Tisdale, a retired construction worker who had just walked out of the grocery store, was pinned for 90 minutes under a large freezer in the store, Anderson said.

Juanita Dorsey, 34, 704 Pine Street Camden, who had been standing inside the store, was pinned under the freezer when it was hit by the truck, Anderson said. The woman was listed in satisfactory condition in Cooper Hospital with back injuries.

Richard Sorenson, a hoseman for Engine Eight, was in critical condition at Cooper with a punctured lung, broken ribs and a broken nose, right shoulder and right arm.

Paul Delfing. driver of Engine One, and James Peterson, driver of Engine Eight, were both pinned inside the cabs of their vehicles for 20 minutes, and 

 later treated and released from Cooper for head and facial injuries, Anderson said.

Sorenson and five other firemen on the two trucks were all thrown from them by the crash. The other firemen injured were Joseph Chelhowski, captain of Engine Eight, who was in satisfactory condition in West Jersey Hospital, Northern Division with ankle injuries and bruises.

Albert Collum, captain of Engine One, who was in stable condition at Cooper with a concussion, a broken finger, contusions and bruises.

William Smith, a hoseman for Engine Eight, who was being held for observation at or Lady of Lourdes Hospital with head and facial cuts and bruises.

John Asher, a hoseman for Engine One, and Paul Capazola, a hoseman for Engine Eight, who were treated and released from Cooper for cuts and bruises.

Five other persons were injured, none seriously, in the crash. One, Leonard Medford, of 611 Line Street, Camden, was in satisfactory condition at Cooper Hospital with leg injuries. The others were all treated and released from Cooper and Lourdes hospitals.

Anderson said the diesel engines of the two trucks both received “extensive" damage and that he did not know if the eight-year-old trucks, which he said usually last 15 years, could be used again.

Chief Edward V. Michalak said the department has pressed two of its older, auxiliary pumpers into service to keep the city's nine engine companies and three ladder companies at full strength.

Michalak said, however, that the two trucks damaged were among the newest the City owned.

Although he would put no dollar estimate on the damages, he said they were “excessive" and that it would not be known until at least Tuesday whether they could be repaired.

The city will not be receiving any new fire trucks until next April, when delivery of four pumpers is expected.

Although the city has experienced fire truck mishaps before, the chief, a 33-year veteran of the force, said this was the most serious.

He would not comment on the cause of the accident pending completion of the department's investigation.

Camden Courier-Post
August 18, 1975

SPECTATORS peer solemnly at Camden fire truck that crashed into corner grocery at 6th and Pine Street, Camden killing one man and injuring 14 other persons after collision with another fire truck at intersection

Camden Courier-Post
August 18, 1975

CAB of fire engine lies atop freezer where it came to rest after slamming through grocery store wall

Camden Courier-Post * August 22, 1975

Council Checking Into Crash

Courier-Post Staff

The brakes on one Camden fire engine will be examined by a specialist to see whether brake failure was responsible for Saturday’s collision of two fire trucks in which one man was killed and l4 persons injured.

However. Deputy Fire Chief Daniel Jiannetto. appearing before Camden City Council Thursday. said he felt the possibility of brake failure was remote because Engine No. 8 is safeguarded by a complex triple-brake system.

Jiannetto said James Peterson, the driver for Engine Co. No. 8. reported he believed the brakes on his vehicle failed to function when he saw Engine Co. No. 1 emerge from a cross-street.

The collision occurred at 6th and Pine Streets as both fire companies were responding to a house fire about two blocks north of the accident scene. The crash sent Engine No. 8 through the wall of Livecchi's Grocery at 601 Pine Street, killing Wilkins Tisdale, 65, a shopper emerging from the store at the time.

Engine No. 8 was traveling north on 6th, which is a through street. while Engine No. 1 was headed east on Pine for 7th Street, where the driver planned to turn north to the fire scene.

Both captains reported their vehicles were traveling at a relatively slow rate of speed, and that buildings at the corners of 6th and Pine obscured their view.

There was also speculation that the drivers were unable to hear each other approach became of the none from their own sirens.

So far, fire and police department investigators have not yet fixed blame on either driver, according to Public Safety Director David Kelly.

Jiannetto said representatives from Ward Lafrance Co., manufacturers of
the two eight-year-old vehicles, have told them Engine No. 1 was demolished, but Engine No. 8 may be repairable.

Martin McKernan, city attorney, said the city carries $250 deductible collision insurance on both vehicles, and said the city is also covered by liability insurance concerning the injuries and damages caused to those outside the department.

Still hospitalized are:

Juanita Dorsey, 34, of 704 Pine Street, listed in fair condition at Cooper Hospital with back injuries.

Leonard Medford, of 611 Line Street, listed in fair condition at Cooper with leg injuries.

Richard Sorenson. a hoseman for Co. No.8, listed in serious condition at
Cooper with a punctured lung, broken ribs and a broken nose, shoulder and arm.

William Smith, also a hoseman for Co. No. 8. listed in satisfactory condition at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital with head and facial cuts.