Camden Fire Department
The Armory Fire

On March 16, 1906 a fire at the former Sixth Regiment Armory building which stood at 410-426 Bridge Avenue, between West Street and South 4th Street extending back to Mickle Street, took the lives of three Camden Firefighters. A series of interesting events resulted 100 years later in the dedication of a tombstone for one of the three heroes, whose family at that time had been unable to provide a marker for him. 

Jobes                      Shields                      Hillman

Heroes of the Armory Fire, Camden, N.J. March 16, 1906

Lima Daily News
Lima, Ohio
March 17, 1906

Altoona Mirror
Altoona, Pennsylvania
March 17, 1906

Charles Worthington, pictured at left, not only recovered from his injuries, but became the Chief of the Camden Fire Department in 1913.

Tragically, Chief Charles Worthington also died while fighting a fire, on May 8, 1914.

100 Years Later
Story and Photos by  Bob Bartosz, Camden NJ Fire Department Photographer
Honor Guard Melendez standing guard as Captain David Dilks plays the bagpipes at dedication of headstone for Fireman William Hillman

On Saturday morning, May 20, 2006 a group of Camden Fire Fighters, Camden County Fire Fighters, retired members of the Fire Force, along with United States Congressman Robert Andrews, Camden  City  Mayor  Gwendolyn  A. Faison, Fire Chief Joseph Marini and Msgr. Michael T. Mannion, S.T.L. and other friends gathered at Evergreen Cemetery in South Camden for the 100th Anniversary of the tragic 1906 Camden Armory Fire that took the lives the three Gallant Fire Fighters. 

Fireman William Jobes of Engine Co. 1, Fireman George Shields with Ladder Co. 2, along with Fireman William Hillman of Ladder Co. 2 died in the Line of Duty that day. In recent years it was found out that Fireman Hillman had been buried in an unmarked grave, and a fund was set up to provide him with a proper headstone.  

While researching the events of this tragic fire some very strange and unusual and ghostly events had surfaced.  All of the details have been documented by newspaper clippings and personal encounters from members of the present fire fighting force.  

This story starts on the morning of March 16, 1906 when Fireman William Hillman is attending Roll Call and is physically upset, his Foreman says to him, "Bill what's  wrong?"

"Captain I have one of my bad feelings today.  We are going to have a bad fire and some of us boys are going to get hurt."  

The Captain said he tried all day to talk Hillman out of his feelings but could not.  He said, to him "Bill where is the fire going to be at?"   

Hillman says "We are going to get the Armory on fire and some so us are not going to return."

( Note:  in 1906 Camden firemen were paid $600.00 a year and worked a straight 24 hour shift for twenty or more days before having a few days off.  Each Member was allowed to go home for 1 hour a day for lunch or dinner, many of the firemen were in walking distance to their homes.).  

On the afternoon of March 16, 1906 Fireman Jobes of Engine Co. 1 had left the Station to go to his home and have dinner with his family.  About the same time Fireman George Shields left Ladder Co. 2 Station to walk a half of block to his home at 525 Kaighns Avenue which was just down the street from Ladder 2 Station. 

( Note: Fireman Shields was a veteran fireman coming on the department in the 1890's, his parents presented him with a shiny ID Tag with his name and fire company No. and his address on the ID Tag.  These were similar to what Civil War soldiers carried to identify themselves if they were  killed in battle.  Shields had this ID Tag with him at all times. We feel that he may have had this ID Tag pinned to the inside of his fireman's uniform coat.)

Shields had just arrived at his home and hung his coat in the closet near  the kitchen and had just set down to dinner with his wife and children when he heard the bells from Engine Co. 8 clanging as they were leaving the station just up the street from his house.  He knew that Ladder Co. 2 would be following them in a few more moments.  He apparently raced from the table and grabbed his coat from the closet and out the front door as Ladder Co. 2 slowed which enabled him to jump on the side of the truck next to Hillman.  And off they went into eternity. 

( Note:  When Shields grabbed his coat from the closet his ID Tag apparently fell from his uniform coat onto the floor of the closet, falling into a crack in the floor.  There it would remain for almost 90 years.) 

Almost at the same time Fireman Jobes, from Engine Co. 1 was told of the blaze and he to left the dinner table and his family and returned to Engine Co. 1's quarters, picking up his leather helmet and rubber coat and boots and preceded to walk the 8 or 10 blocks to the fire. The fire was located at Box 174, on the corner of  4th and Mickle Streets at the Sixth Regiment Armory building. Hillman's prediction was coming true. 

When Jobes arrived at the fire members of his Company and members of Ladder Co. 2 with Hillman and Shields were stretching a 2-1/2 inch line through the front door of this heavily involved building, which at one time was the home of the New Jersey National Guard's Sixth Regiment and now housed a huge bowling alley, pool hall and many shops. Surrounding the building were many rows of two and three story dwellings.  

As Jobes, Hillman and Shields along with eight other firemen were advancing the line into the blazing building, hoping to cut the spread of the fire off before it reached the homes, a worker yelled at them, "Boys don't go in there, the roof is going to fall in and you will be killed" but to no avail.  

The men were in about 50 feet with the charged line working when the roof came crashing in onto the second floor, which was housing the pool hall section with heavy slate pool tables, sending the tables and the floor crashing down to the first floor trapping all eleven firemen. Eight firemen were able to dig themselves free, many with cuts, burns and broken bones.  Finding the hose line they were able to follow it to the outside where they were rushed by police and civilians to the nearby Camden Hospital.  It would be many hours later before they were able to work there way in and recover the bodies of the three missing men.

The City of Camden went into mourning and thousands of Camden residents paid their respects to these three gallant firemen. The firemen were all poor, only making about 11 cents an hour. A fund drive was setup to raise money for the families.  As it was found out later only Jobes and Shields had headstones on their graves.

It would be almost 90 years later when this tragedy would come to light.  An off duty Camden Fire Chief found a postcard at a local flea market.  The postcard had three photos of firemen with their names under the photos of Jobes, Shields, and Hillman, "Heroes of the Armory Fire, Camden N.J. March 16, 1906."  

The Chief brought this unusual post card into Fire Headquarters one day and showed it to Chief Joseph Marini, who was also a Fire Buff and knew quite a lot of the history of the Camden Fire Department.  Chief Marini had not heard of this fire and did not know that we had lost three firemen at the same time.  The postcard was placed into his desk drawer where it sat for a few more years.

The house where fireman George Shields lived was now run down and vacant along with the rest of the homes on this block.  Numerous fires had occurred in a few of these homes and on one afternoon, Engine Co. 8 and Shields former unit, Ladder Co. 2 were dispatched to the 525 Kaighns Avenue for a report of an vacant house fire.  As the Companies arrived they found heavy fire showing which was soon knocked down and brought under control.  As members of Ladder Co. 2 were overhauling and shoveling debris out, one of the members of Ladder Co. 2 spotted a shiny object on the floor.  He picked it up and placed it in his pocket.  When they returned to Ladder Co. 2's quarters he showed the shiny object to his Captain.  He said, that he found it on the closet floor of the burned out dwelling they had just left.   

As they cleaned the object up they found that it was an ID Tag.  On the tag was written "525 Kaighns Avenue, George W. Shields, Camden Fire Dept. Camden N.J." They though it was quite unusual for a fireman to find another fireman's ID Tag in a burned out home.  They preceded to Fire Headquarters with the ID Tag to show Fire Chief Joseph Marini to ask him if he had ever heard of this fireman.  

Chief Marini said that the name sounded familiar and as he opened his desk drawer, there sitting in front of him was the old 1906 postcard with the three firemen's photos on it, and the middle picture was a fireman by the name of Shields.  It would be amazing that these two events would come together but still no one ever heard of the fire or these men. 

At the same time a committee was now working on a book to mark the 125th Anniversary of the Camden Fire Department.  Chief Marini gave the postcard and the ID Tag to the committee to research.  This is how the "Mystery  of the Three Gallant Firemen" came to light.  

It was later found out that Shields did lose his ID Tag on the night he was killed. Was this a hidden message telling his brother firemen "Don't forget about us"? How strange is it that a brother fire fighter from his same Company, Ladder Co. 2 would find this hidden message almost 90 years later. 

It took another 10 years of in-depth research, over many hours of looking into microfilm of 1906 newspapers to find out more information about the fire, where it was found out that fireman Hillman did predict the Armory fire and his death. It took over three  more years to find out the location of the three fireman of their burial sites. Evergreen Cemetery, at the southwest corner of Mt. Ephraim Avenue and Ferry Avenue, where Shields and Hillman are buried was under very depressed conditions and had been badly vandalized. 

It was found out the Shields did have a headstone and so did Jobes, who is buried at Harleigh Cemetery not far from the grave of Walt Whitman, but fireman Hillman had lay buried in a cold unmarked grave for over 100 years. 

Was it the ghost of these men, especially fireman Shields who left his hidden message with his lost ID Tag for his brother firemen to find to bring this story to an end?  

A fund was started and a beautiful headstone was purchased. On the headstone is a picture of fireman Hillman along with an original photo of the 1906 Horsedrawn Ladder Co. 2. Hillman is standing next to Shields in this picture which is now embedded into this headstone.  

On May 20, 2006 the tears from heaven started to pour down as brother firemen lined up at the opening ceremony on this 100 year Anniversary for the dedication of Hillman's headstone.

As Fire Chief Marini saluted firemen Hillman's grave, the sun came out, the rain clouds were no longer in the sky and a beautiful sunny day was now upon us. As if firemen Jobes, Shields and Hillman were saying Thank You. All of us from the Camden Fire Department are saying, Rest In Peace Brothers for your Gallant Sacrifice. This  story has reached its Happy Ending.

US Congressman Robert Andrews, second from the right, speaking at the dedication of the new Headstone for Camden Fireman William Hillman.  Left to right in photo are, Honor Guard Camden FF David Melendez, Camden Chief of the Department Joseph Marini, in background Captain David Dilks with his Bagpipe, Congressman Robert Andrews and Msgr. Michael T. Mannion, S.T. L.

US Congressman Robert Andrews and Camden Mayor Gwendolyn A. Faison remove the cover from the headstone, as Honor Guard Camden FF David Melendez looks on.


Camden Fire Chief Joseph Marini saying a few words about the tragic fire in 1906 which claimed the lives of three Gallant Fire Fighters- Jobes, Shields, Hillman.


Chief of the Department Joseph Marini gives a final farewell salute to Fireman William Hillman who died in the Line Of Duty in 1906.

Firefighters admiring the new headstone at the gravesite of Hillman at the conclusion of the ceremonies.

Flags and wreath at the grave site of Fireman George Shields who also died in the tragic 1906 fire.

Flags and wreath at the grave site of Fireman William Jobes who also died in the tragic 1906 fire.

Be Sure to Click on Images for Enlarged Views

Many of the photographs relating to the Camden Fire Department that are on this website are from the limited edition book "Fire Department Camden NJ 125 Anniversary 1869-1994" and were taken by Department Photographer Bob Bartosz. Others are courtesy of Joel Bain of the Camden Fire Department.

Thanks to Bob Bartosz for providing the story and the photographs of the gravesite ceremony for Fireman Hillman and of Firemen Jobes' and Shields' graves.