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|
Conflagrations and Supreme Sacrifices
The City sustained several major fires during 1912. The first occurred during the early morning hours of January 30th. The blaze began on the first floor of a factory building at the Camden Gelatin Company at Fifth Street and the Delaware River, North Camden. Box 14 at Fifth and Erie Streets was pulled, also accompanied by a phone alarm. Flames lit up the night sky as second and third alarms were transmitted in rapid succession. Frozen hydrants seriously hampered arriving engine companies and firemen built bon fires under the hydrants to thaw them while other hydrants were sought. At least a dozen master streams surrounded the fire. Collapsing walls produced severe flying embers that started a blaze in the machine shop at the Camden Ship Yard and a third fire in the Troth Warehouse. Fireman Edward Finley of Hook & Ladder Company 1 was overcome by heavy smoke and removed from the scene unconscious. He was transported to West Jersey Homeopathic Hospital where he was revived. By 2 A.M., fire fighters had the fire under control. The gelatin plant was owned by Kind and Landesman and consisted of an office building and two, two-and-one-half-story factory buildings, all destroyed in the fire. Engine Company 4 remained at the scene until the afternoon, wetting down the smoldering ruins.
Near 5:30 P.M. on April 4, 1912, the Philadelphia Steel and Wire Company at Delaware Avenue and Pearl Street, North Camden, was badly damaged in a serious blaze. Falling electrical wires and several explosions endangered firemen as they struggled to contain the fire. At the height of the blaze, the David Baird Spar Yards and the Munger and Bennett Lumber Mill were threatened by radiant heat and flying embers. These adjacent facilities would have produced a conflagration of unimaginable proportions were it not for the strong defensive position taken by Camden's Bravest that saved millions of board feet of lumber from the wrath of the flames. While responding to the blaze, Engine Company 7 skidded in the trolley tracks and struck the pavement, tearing off a wheel and toppling the apparatus on its side. The chauffeur, Fireman Edwin Simpkins was thrown from his seat and injured. Engineer of Steamer, Fireman James Navin, while stoking the boiler escaped serious injury by jumping clear of the apparatus just before impact.
Around 1:30 P.M. on June 1, 1912, another general alarm destroyed the Domestic Laundry Plant at Third Street and Taylor Avenue, center city. Plant employees working on the third floor smelled smoke.
As they rushed to exit the burning building, flaming debris rained down on the sidewalks from the blazing eaves and roof of the four-story factory. The fire spread rapidly to the adjoining offices of the George Hammond Plumbing Company. Assisted by the fire brigade of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Camden Firemen were able to contain the blaze to the second and third floors of the Hammond property. Mutual aid companies from Camden County were deployed to protect exposures. The blaze was under control within an hour. The resulting fire loss was $70,000.
On June 29th, four weeks after the laundry fire, a bolt of lightning struck the cupola of a three-story factory occupied by the Excelsior Drum Company. Located at Ninth and Market Streets, the building was formerly the home of the old Caffrey Carriage Works. The night sky was illuminated by columns of flame shooting fifty feet above the building. Quick and efficient work by firemen enabled them to control the blaze before it spread to adjoining properties.
Also during June 1912, Hook & Ladder 2 and the Chemical Engine were responding first due to an alarm at Third and Liberty Streets, South Camden. Both companies turned west on Kaighns Avenue, their horses at a full gallop. At the comer of Broadway, a traffic cop attempted to stop a motorized truck to clear the street for responding apparatus. At the last moment, the commercial truck's brakes failed to halt the vehicle as it rolled across the intersection. Ladder 2's driver pulled hard on the reins and stopped short to avoid a collision. A terrific crash was heard as the Chemical Engine ran into the rear of the ladder company. Fireman Fred Hall, the driver of Chemical Company 2 sustained leg injuries while pinned under the crushed dashboard. Fireman Harry Haines, the ladder company tillerman was also injured in the jarring collision. Both horses of the Chemical Engine were seriously hurt, Ellis with a large gaping hole tom in its flank when the end of a ladder was shoved into the animal requiring seven big stitches to close. The mate was skinned and cut along its entire side. Both steeds were removed to the veterinary hospital for treatment.
About 5:20 A.M. on July 20, 1912, two watchman discovered a fire at the Graves paper box factory at Twelfth and Linden Streets, North Camden. The fire extended to an adjoining three-story paint factory. Chief Elfreth and his men encountered formidable obstacles as burning oil floated on top of the water along the Cooper River. Fireman Joseph Maxwell of Hook & Ladder Company 1 suffered serious smoke inhalation but refused to abandoned his position. Only the north wall of the paint factory remained standing after the flames were darkened. The cause of the fire was determined to be spontaneous combustion in the paper box factory. The resulting fire loss was $50,000.
Earlier that morning at 2 A.M., Engine Company 4 had extinguished a fire on a welding barge at the Quigley, Davis & Dorp Shipyards at Point Street and the Delaware River. Later that day near one in the afternoon and following the factory blaze, firemen again responded to another barge fire near the location of the first incident. This blaze was also quickly controlled.
The last business to be heavily damaged by fire during 1912 was the Davis Commercial Bakery at Williams and Berkley Streets, South Camden, on December 15th. Near 12:30 A.M., Night Watchman Adam Urban found one of the firm's many wagons ablaze in a garage under the bakery. The fire quickly spread through the ceiling to the bakery above. A favorable southwest wind aided firemen in preventing the blaze from extending to numerous frame dwellings and other adjoining buildings. The fire was out by 3 A.M. with an estimated property loss of $75,000.
On October 13, 1912, Fireman Lewis Buzine of Engine Company 3 made the Supreme Sacrifice in the line of duty.
On January 1, 1913, City Council authorized by fiscal resolution, an amount of $75,000 for the full motorization of the Department. One of first motorized vehicles to enter service under this appropriation was a l913 Cadillac assigned to Chief of Department Samuel Elfreth. The horse drawn steamer of Engine Company 1 received the first Christie tractor which powered the apparatus for propulsion, not pumping. The transition would continue for the next three years until 1916 when Ladder Company 2 surrendered its steeds as the last unit, heralding the full motorization of Department.
On February 26, 1913, Camden Fire Fighters responded on a mutual aid alarm to the Borough of Collingswood for a fire involving an entire block of the business district. The Post Office, a Masonic Temple and many surrounding stores and dwellings were destroyed in the blaze. Again on February 23, 914, units of the Department were special called to Collingswood to assist volunteer fire fighters in controlling a fire in the residence of Burleigh B. Draper, a prominent Camden banker. This was the first response for the new apparatus of Engine Company 2, a 1914 American LaFrance triple combination pumper that had entered service just two days earlier.
In the autumn of 1913, Chief of Department Samuel S. Elfreth retired from the Department with over forty years of service and a tenure spanning three administrations as Chief. Chief Charles Worthington was appointee d as his successor. Chief Elfreth had been a member of the Independence Fire Company No.3 of the volunteer department prior to joining the paid force.
Hose and Chemical Company 2 was reorganized as a one-piece unit on December 11, 1913. Previously located at 27th and Federal Streets, East Camden, this company entered service in new quarters at 27th Street and Hayes Avenue, Cramer Hill.
A spectacular fire destroyed the Woodlynne Park amusement park, with its large wooden roller coaster, in the Borough of Woodlynne on March 15, 1914. As a community without its own fire department, the Woodlynne blaze was controlled by a second alarm assignment from the City under the direction of Chief Worthington, assisted by mutual aid units from other nearby communities.
On May 8, 1914, three alarms were transmitted for a fire at the Camden Electroplating Company at Delaware Avenue and George Street, center city. Box 134 at Delaware Ave. and Market Streets was transmitted at 10:52 P.M. Chief of Department Worthington was one of the first units to arrive at the scene and observed heavy fire conditions on the top floor of the two-story building. Chief Worthington ordered an exterior attack from the roof area through large skylight openings. This operation was made particularly arduous by heavy smoke. The fire extended from the plating company at #12 George Street, to involve the New Jersey Automobile Supply Company at #38 Delaware Avenue. Over twenty automobiles and fifty horses were saved during the early stages of the fire.
On the roof, Chief Worthington conversed with Deputy Chief John A. Stockton and Captain Madison of Engine Company 5. Chief Worthington directed Stockton to go down to the street, transmit a second alarm, and also have an engine company stretch a line up the alley. Chief Worthington then left the men and proceeded along the roof to the south side of the building where he was last seen. When Stockton brought the hose team up the alleyway, he found the unconscious Chief laying next to the building. Chief Worthington had apparently stepped back on the roof to avoid a skylight and fell into a shaft between two buildings. The Chief had landed on a pile of scrap iron which inflicted serious wounds including a deep gash on his neck. Deputy Chief Stockton and Police Chief Elisha A. Gravenor assisted firemen in removing Chief Worthington from the alley where he was rushed to Cooper Hospital. The Chief was pronounced dead on arrival with a broken neck and fractured skull.
An official viewing for the Uniformed Force was held at Fire Headquarters where firemen viewed the remains of their Chief. On Tuesday Evening, May 12th, the Chief's remains were moved to the Court House where, as a municipal official. Chief Worthington lay in state, the body resting upon a catafalque under the honor guard of four Uniformed Firemen. At 6:30 PM the City Hall bell tower tolled a mournful dirge for the late chief as ten thousand persons filed past the coffin. All firehouses and apparatus were draped in black crepe. All members of the Department were placed on continuous duty for a 48 hour period over May 12th and 13th.
On Wednesday, May 13th, a grand funeral procession carried Chief Worthington to his final resting place at Arlington Cemetery. The eulogy was given by Chief Sherman of the Fire Patrol, the Salvage Corps of the fire service operated by the Insurance Industry. Chief Worthington was 43 years of age when he made the Supreme Sacrifice. Chief John A. Stockton was appointed as his successor.
During a working fire at Locust and Spruce Streets, South Camden, on June 6, 1914, Fireman Joseph Ware of Engine Company 1 was seriously injured. While cranking the apparatus motor on Engine 3, the crank slipped, striking him in the face. He became paralyzed and blind as a result of his injuries. Complications led to Fireman Ware's death a short time later on July 21, 1914.
The Munger & Bennett Mill fire was discovered shortly before 6:00 PM on November 12, 1914, in the big planing mill near the pier at Delaware Avenue and Clinton Streets, South Camden. This incident was one of the most spectacular fires in years, destroying a large section of the lumber yard extending to three warehouses of the West Jersey Paper Company and the tramway of the Philadelphia steel and wire plant. High winds from the river fanned the fire and quickly drove the flames into the big lumber the big lumber piles in the yard. A telephone alarm was received at Fire Headquarters and upon his arrival. Chief Stockton transmitted four alarms in rapid succession, plus additional calls for mutual aid. Companies arriving on Greater Alarms were hampered by the closing of Delaware Avenue for repaving. Apparatus had to be placed two and three blocks from the fire necessitating long and arduous stretches of hoseline. At the height of the blaze it appeared that several big factory complexes in the area were doomed, as over one million board feet of finished lumber produced a roaring inferno. Industrial fire brigades from the nearby Victor Talking Machine, Camden Lace, and David Baird Spar Yards were pressed into service to assist the Department in conjunction with at least four tug boats that fought the fire from the river anchorage. The tugs were credited in saving thousands of dollars of property. The estimated loss exceeded $150,000 and resulted in injuries to one civilian and seven firemen.
On July 29th of 1915, after a career that spanned four decades, Chief John A. Stockton retired effective October 1st. He was succeeded as Chief by Peter B. Carter. Chief Carter would serve until 1926, during which time the city of Camden saw much growth and several large fires. Under Chief Carter's administration, the last of the horse-drawn units would be motorized.
On January 3, 1915, one of the worst fires in Department history occurred at Kaighns Point and the Delaware River, South Camden. The fire was discovered in the men's waiting room of the Reading Terminal. Fanned by frigid 40 MPH winds off the river, the fire rapidly involved the ferry house and jumped Kaighn Avenue, igniting frame umbrella sheds and over one hundred frame passenger coaches. Box 31 at Front Street and Kaighn Avenue was pulled at 5:55 A.M. First alarm units were greeted by a near conflagration as the fire swept eastward into the big lumber mill of C.B. Coles & Sons, and simultaneously southward igniting frame buildings in the Dialogue Shipyard. Large burning embers floating on the water, set fire to a ship on the river. Four alarms plus numerous calls for mutual aid halted this blaze that caused injuries to 150 persons including more than 100 fire fighters. A field hospital was established in the offices of the C.B. Coles Company by Dr. Maldeis of Homeopathic Hospital to treat the numerous injuries. He was assisted by the Department Fire Surgeon, Dr. Schellinger. In the history of the Department, never had so many firemen been injured at a single incident.
February 6, 1915, the Department again responded to the Borough of Collingswood on mutual aid for a fire at the Enterprise Wall Paper Company. Three members of the Department were seriously injured by falling walls. Battalion Chief George Wade and Hosemen William Laird and Howard Mathews were hospitalized for several weeks, with crushed limbs.
Another disastrous fire occurred on March 27, 1915 at the plant of the Collings Carriage Company at Front and Arch Streets, center city. The three-story factory was used to build automobile bodies. John Ashton, the principal clerk for the Pennsylvania Railroad, saw the flames and pulled Box 51. Box 52 was also transmitted by employees of the carriage plant. The fire started in a varnish room located on the top floor at the southwest corner of the building. The afternoon blaze was fed by varnish and other inflammable materials within the building. The officer of the first due engine ordered a general alarm on arrival, as fire raced through the factory. The fire brigade of the Pennsylvania Railroad responded to assist Fire Fighters and while doing so, the whistle blew at the Van Sciver furniture factory also summoning its fire brigade as several nearby plants were threatened. While operating on the roof of the burning factory, some twenty Camden Firemen heard an ominous cracking sound. As they leaped across a shaft to the roof of an adjoining two-story building, the roof of the blazing factory collapsed with a deafening roar. Four companies of men narrowly escaped with their lives. With the assistance of the Industrial Fire Brigades, the blaze was brought under control by late afternoon. Damage exceeded $100,000.
A near conflagration in the Village of Gibbsboro at the Lucas Paint Works summoned a mutual aid response from the Department on August 1, 1915. Fire threatened to destroy the entire residential district of Gibbsboro, a community without local fire services. Camden Fire Fighters drafted from the Gibbsboro Lake and contained the fire to the factory complex. This was one of Camden's first mutual aid responses with motorized apparatus. Also during 1915, the Haddon Heights Volunteer Fire Company purchased the former apparatus of Engine Company 3, a Clapp and Jones steamer.
In January 2,1916, Camden Fire Fighters performed gallant service at the scene of a conflagration involving the Taubel Hosiery Mills in Riverside. Gale force winds and sub-zero temperatures created punishing conditions for fire fighters.
Something akin to a miracle occurred on the frigid night of January 11,1916 at the State Street Methodist Episcopal Church, Sixth and State Streets, North Camden. At 10 P.M., three alarms were transmitted in rapid succession for a serious fire involving the main auditorium of the church. Heavy fire conditions extended to destroy the roof, the organ loft, the altar, Sunday School classrooms, and the entire pew area throughout the auditorium. When the blaze was finally extinguished, all that remained standing were four granite walls. On the south side of the building along State Street, was a magnificent stained glass window of gigantic proportion depicting Christ breaking bread with Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus. The window had inexplicably withstood the flames and heat. The scene from the life of Christ was not blistered, scorched or marred in anyway. It has never been retouched and still stands as a miracle, surviving one of the most disastrous church fires in City history. Chief of Department Peter Carter was injured at this incident when he fell through a passageway between the auditorium and the school building. He was hospitalized for several weeks. Captain Joseph Maxwell and Fireman Stewart Bakley of Hook & Ladder Company 1, Fireman John Hunt of Engine Company 3, and Fireman William McCauley of Chemical Company 1 were injured when the church roof collapsed on them. Under heavy smoke conditions and following some difficulty, the members were able to extricate themselves, three of them safely. Captain Maxwell was admitted to the hospital for a brief stay.
On April 6, 1916, the Department's fleet became fully motorized with twenty-five pieces of apparatus and vehicles. On that date Ladder Company 2 was the last unit to relinquish its horses, quite reluctantly among many of its members. Contemporary fire fighters cannot understand the degree of personal affection and the bond that existed between the old time fireman and his beloved steeds. Fire horses were not regarded as firehouse pets or mascots, as were other animals like dogs. Firemen considered their horses to be an integral part of the team, with almost human like qualities and a level of affection that transcended anything even akin to a master's love for his pet.
Upon full motorization, twelve horses with eleven sets of double harnesses and one single harness were given to the Highway Department. Another sixteen horses and harnesses were privately sold and the proceeds of the sale in an amount of $1952.50 were donated to the Firemen's Pension Fund. Ten days after the Department became fully motorized, the last horse was sold thus ending a memorable era.
Today's fire fighter can hardly appreciate the tremendous burden and extraordinary performance, that those magnificent fire horses were so famous for. Imagine a bitterly cold night in the dead of winter, as Engine Company 3 responded first due on the Fourth Alarm to North Camden. A two horse hitch pulling a 3,000 pound brass and iron steamer at full gallop, non-stop from Ferry Avenue to State Street. Upon arriving at the scene, the horses in a full sweat would be uncoupled from the apparatus and made to stand patiently by for hours, in howling arctic winds, often immersed in choking and blinding smoke, without relief. These animals were creatures of rare and remarkable disposition.
The glorious days of the magnificent fire horse and the old time fireman have long since passed, replaced by the diesel belching monsters of the modem fire service. But perhaps still somewhere in time, from very long ago, the distant sound of a clanging bell and the sharp clatter of hoofs can be heard, as Engine Company 3 rumbles up Broadway.
The annual report of the Department for the year 1916 included the following inventory on apparatus and vehicles:
In 1916, the Department occupied eleven firehouses throughout the city; seven of which were single unit stations, and the remaining as double unit quarters. Camden became one of the very first fully motorized and fully paid fire departments in the United States. While some departments were fully motorized earlier but still had volunteers, others were fully paid sooner, but still used horses.
During 1916, Fire Headquarters was renovated by William Wrifford at a cost of $9450. New furnishings and other related work increased this expenditure to $11,686.
On April 6,1916, Engine Company 8 was organized as a conventional fire company in the former quarters of Chemical Company 2 at 617 Kaighn Avenue, South Camden. Engine 8 would share the firehouse with Hook & Ladder Company 2 which occupied the adjoining bay at 619 Kaighn Avenue.
On March 27,1917, City Council created a Public Safety Committee. The purpose of the committee was to organize and designate police and firemen to guard public buildings; utilities and military armories during the war. A special badge with individual number was issued to each designated member of both departments to signify war time security.
During 1918, the City of Camden annexed the Village of Yorkship from Haddon Township, New Jersey. This residential community, originally built during the First World War to provide housing for thousands of families employed at the New York Shipyards in South Camden, was later renamed Fairview Village. This section extended the City to the far regions of South Camden, beyond what had been Morgan Village and the city limits along the Newton Creek.
On March 3, 1918, eighteen large trolley cars were destroyed in a blaze at the Public Service Railway Company in South Camden. The fire was discovered about 4:30 A.M. when two Motormen entered the barn to take out their cars. Firemen could not advance hoselines to the seat of the fire due to closely parked trolleys and the lack of space to maneuver. Engine companies stretched lines to the roof and battled the flames under punishing conditions of extreme heat and heavy smoke. The damage was confined to a single barn as several new trolley cars were saved. The fire was thought to have been set by a disgruntled employee. The damage from fire loss was estimated at $150,000. Just a week earlier, thirty brass handles had been stolen from the same building.
In August 1918, Engine Company 9 was organized as a conventional fire company in the former quarters of Hose and Chemical Company 1 at 27th and Federal Streets, East Camden. Engine 9 would operate as a two piece unit, utilizing one of the chemical company's apparatus. Engine 9 would share the firehouse with Hook & Ladder Company 3 which occupied the adjoining bay.
A serious fire occurred on September 11, 1918, at the New York Ship Yard, Broadway and Morgan Streets, South Camden. The facility when opened during the first world war, was the largest private ship building installation in the United States. The fire started in the metal shop on lower Broadway above the Newton Creek. At the time of the blaze, thousands of spectators lined Broadway during a Liberty Bond Parade, while sixteen Navy Destroyers were under construction on the open ways just west of the burning buildings. As the ships were vital to the prevailing war effort, fire fighters held a defensive position between the main body of fire and the exposed ships. Mutual aid from Camden County and the City of Philadelphia was summoned to control the blazing fire buildings while Camden Fire Fighters succeeded in saving the seriously exposed Destroyers. U.S. Marines from League Island assisted Police in controlling the throngs of spectators that crowded the surrounding area to view the blaze.
With the annexation of Fairview, construction began in 1919 for a new fire station at 2500 Morgan Boulevard, South Camden. While new apparatus for Engine Company 10 and Ladder Company 4 was delivered in May 1920, the building would not become operational until its completion on September 16th. Engine 10 entered service as a one piece unit with a 1920 Robinson 750 GPM pumper, and Ladder 4 with a 1920 American LaFrance City Service Truck with chemical tank. These new quarters when opened for service was the only firehouse in the Department never to have held horses.
Under the administration of Chief Carter, the first black firemen were were hired by the Camden Fire Department in 1920. In those years virtually all fire companies nationwide were segregated, as were the armed forces of the United States. For many years Engine Company 1 at the South 4th and Pine Street firehouse was the only black unit in Camden's Fire Department. It should be noted that the racial make-up of the city in 1920 was far different than what it was 30, 50, and 80 years later.
By action of the New Jersey Legislature, a state civil service authority was enacted on January 1,1921 establishing standards for the selection and promotion of Police and Fire Personnel at the local government level, based on the merit system. This enactment precluded the long standing spoils system where political patronage had been the principal means by which appointments were made to the Uniformed Force. Also on January 1, 1921, the Department adopted the 84 hour work week by implementing a two platoon system. This new schedule replaced the old one platoon, continuous duty cycle.
In 1921, the Department occupied twelve firehouses throughout the city among eleven Engine Companies; four Ladder Companies; and three Battalions. Also during 1921, the installation of the final leg of a municipal fire alarm system begun in 1872, was completed by extending terminal coverage to the Fairview section of the City. Cable plant and alarm boxes had been previously extended to the East Camden and Cramer Hill sections, and the far regions of South Camden during the first decade of the new century. Fairview now completed "the loop" among several hundred signal stations.
Also during 1921, the Department abolished the rank of Lieutenant and established a two tier position of Captain in both Junior and Senior grade. The fire originated in the Sargol Shoe Store at 455 Kaighn Avenue, South Camden, during the early morning hours of December 14, 1921. Police Officer Arthur Levington while walking his beat along Broadway near Kaighn Avenue, smelled the strong odor of pungent wood smoke. Upon rounding the corner at Kaighn Avenue, Levington saw flames shooting from the top floor windows and quickly turned in the alarm. By the time Engine 8 and Ladder 2 arrived first due, all three floors of the shoe store were blowing heavy fire out the rear. The shoe store had been part of the Toone and Hollinshed Department Store. Only a door separated both properties at an elevator shaft. As units scrambled to get water on the blaze, the fire rapidly communicated up the shaft to involve the Toone and Hollinshed Mercantile. This property erected in 1881 measured 60 x 100 feet and was the City's first Department Store. The mercantile was heavily stocked with goods and wares at the height of the Christmas shopping season. Greater Alarms were transmitted in quick succession. Companies advanced lines to the roof of the exposure to gain a vantage position from which to darken the fire in the shoe store, but the blaze extended to involve the top floor of the mercantile. Several fire fighters nearly fell to their death when the tin roof on which they stood froze over with encrusted ice despite extreme heat from the fire. Fireman Charles Gladney, Aide to Assistant Chief Patterson, was saved from certain death while working on the roof. He fell and began a perilous slide to the street. At the last moment, a fast and tenuous grasp by brother fire fighter averted tragedy. As the blaze illuminated the surrounding neighborhood, roof positions became untenable as companies were withdrawn to the street.
Adjoining the shoe store was the Sugar Bowl at 451 Kaighn Avenue, a well known confectionery. Only through the extraordinary efforts of fire fighters was the fire prevented from extending to this property. Numerous master streams poured tons of water on the blaze before it was finally brought under control nearly six hours after it began. Although the fire did not reach the first two levels of the mercantile, smoke and water damage took its toll upon the stock on the lower floors. Toone and Hollinshed sustained $175,000 in damage while the adjoining shoe store was reduced to ruins. The mercantile had suffered $50,000 damage in another blaze on August 8, 1913 when the property was struck by lightning during a fierce summer storm.
Another tragic blaze occurred on January 18, 1922 at the Economy Department Store, 427 Kaighn Avenue, South Camden. Companies responding to an alarm from Box 34 at Broadway and Kaighn Avenue arrived to find what they thought was a minor fire, amid light smoke conditions. But while Engine Company 8 was stretching the first line, the fire blossomed with such intensity that the first floor lit up and became a sea of flames. As Greater Alarms were quickly transmitted, the fire entered a broad staircase on the main floor and in minutes spread upward to involve all floors of the building. Heavy stream appeared to have little effect on the blaze as members gained access to the roof via aerial ladder in hopes of confining the fire to the original building. Captain Martin Carrigan was fatally injured while fighting this fire.
On January 1, 1923 the City of Camden adopted the commission form of government and reorganized the Police and Fire Departments as Bureaus under the jurisdiction of a Public Safety Commissioner.
On June 1, 1923 the Department organized a Fireman's Band. This unit consisted of some twenty members with musical talents among a variety of instruments and was reputed to be quite good. This band not only served the Department at official functions, but was also asked to attend other municipal and civic events to provide appropriate musical accompaniment. The band actively functioned well into the nineteen-forties.
A blaze badly damaged the Steamboats Columbia, Princeton and the Twilight on October 17, 1923. The old riverboats were moored at the yards of the Camden Shipbuilding Company at Fifth Street and the Delaware River, North Camden.
On the following morning of October 18, 1923, the Department sent two engine companies on mutual aid to the Borough of Clementon to assist numerous county fire companies in battling a blaze along Erial Road north of the railroad. Several homes were destroyed in this fire.
During July 1924, Engine Company 11 was organized as a conventional fire company in the former quarters of Hose and Chemical Company 2 at 27th Street and Hayes Avenue, Cramer Hill. This reorganization would provide the East Camden and Cramer Hill regions of the City with the services of a second engine company.
During the evening of November 17, 1924, units of the 3rd Battalion were placed on standby for a mutual aid response to Atlantic City, New Jersey. A serious fire on the Boardwalk between Virginia and Pennsylvania Avenues, destroyed three hotels and involved the Steel Pier. This request for mutual aid standby was later cancelled.
A back fire from a heater furnace caused a blaze that destroyed the Hitchner Wall Paper Company at Fifth and Mickle Streets, South Camden. About 5:00 AM on the morning of December 10, 1924, Watchman Harry Jensen was stirring the coals in the furnace chamber when a backdraft occurred. He ran for a fire extinguisher but by the time he returned, the entire room was ablaze. A passerby, Mrs. Anna Patterson, pulled the nearby alarm box to summon the Fire Department. Chief of Department Peter Carter was delayed in arriving at the scene as his Aide, Fireman Maurice Foley, was involved in an automobile accident on Haddon Avenue while responding to pick up the Chief. When he did arrive. Chief Carter transmitted the "three threes", the telegraph signal ordering a general alarm response to the fire. Chief Carter found the wall paper factory heavily involved with dense acrid smoke blanketing the neighborhood, making it nearly impossible to breathe. Residents on the south side of the fire building found their wooden window shutters and rear sheds in the backyards igniting from severe radiant heat.
Quick action by firemen extinguished these extension fires and prevented the blaze from spreading further. Chief Carter requested mutual aid from the Philadelphia Fire Department and Engine Companies 1 and 6 responded to assist. The damage from this latest fire was estimated at $ 100,000. The plant had been the scene of several previous smaller blazes.
On January 19, 1925, Fireman John Reilly of Engine Company 4 made the Supreme Sacrifice in the line of duty. About 9:30 P.M. that Monday evening, Engine 4 turned out on a phone alarm reporting an oil stove fire in an occupied building near Second and State Streets, North Camden. The fire occurred in the residence of Max Kosh, located above his grocery store, Upon arrival, Firemen John Reilly and Albert Raeuber carried a large copper portable extinguisher to the second floor. The flames were quickly extinguished and the nozzle closed. Suddenly, the fire extinguisher exploded like a bomb. Fireman Reilly was struck in the face by pieces of the fragmented appliance. He was killed instantly. Fireman Raeuber sustained serious lacerations and bruises, requiring an overnight admission at Cooper Hospital. Probationary Fireman John Reilly was thirty-five years old and a member of the Department for seven months. He had become quite popular among the members and neighbors of Engine Company 4.
On July 27, 1925 a fire at the Bantivoglio & Son junk yard in the 200 block of Division Street resulted in the injury of four members of Engine Company 7, when a brick wall collapsed on them. Chief Carter, who was on the scene directing firefighting efforts, saw the wall collapse and directed rescue efforts. One firefighter, Nicholas Romaine, died several years later as a result of injuries sustained in this incident.
In 1926, Thomas Nicholas was appointed Chief of Department succeeding Chief Peter B. Carter. Nicholas was the first Chief to be appointed by the merit system of the newly established civil service authority.
On June 1, 1926, the City began construction of the Fourteenth Street Viaduct on Federal Street, connecting center city with East Camden. Previously, the section of Federal Street from Newton Avenue to River Avenue intersected Bridge Boulevard (the Admiral Wilson) and other streets at grade level. The apron in front of the quarters of Engine Company 5 adjoined the curbline on Federal Street. The construction of the viaduct elevated the Federal Street roadbed to second story level, providing an overpass for both the Cooper River and Bridge Boulevard, but effectively obstructing the fire station. On November 3, 1925, the building was closed and Engine Company 5 was permanently relocated to East Camden to share quarters with Engine Company 9 and Ladder Company 3. The garage door opening that many members will recall, at the rear of Engine 9' s firehouse on the Federal Street side, was made to accommodate the apparatus of Engine Company 5.
On July 1, 1926, the Camden Bridge, renamed the Delaware River Bridge and later the Benjamin Franklin, was opened to traffic. Four days later on Monday, July 5th, President Calvin Coolidge inaugurated the grand structure at its formal dedication. Spanning the Delaware River between the State of New Jersey and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the structure joined the Cities of Camden and Philadelphia over a 9,750 foot roadway with a central span of 1,750 feet. At a cost of nearly $40 million dollars, the span when completed was the longest suspension bridge in the world predating such engineering marvels as the Golden Gate of California and the Verrazano in New York. Prior to the bridge's construction, all traffic between Pennsylvania and New Jersey had to rely on river ferries for transportation.
opening of the Camden Bridge was heralded by officials as the Gateway to
the Garden State. But to many North Camden residents, the opening of the
bridge was long regarded as the catalyst in the decline of many North
Camden neighborhoods. As a barrier of both physical and psychological
comportment, the bridge with its broad approaches was said to isolate
much of North Camden from the rest of the City and from center city in
particular. In 1928, no one of course could imagine the degree of urban
blight that would inflict North Camden in just little more than thirty
on July 5, 1926, the Department organized a temporary fire company at
the South Jersey Exposition grounds located off Haddon Avenue near
Mickle Boulevard and what is now the Route 676 expressway. This unit
operated as a one-piece engine company with an apparatus assigned from Engine
Company 8. Known as the South Jersey Exposition
independent unit occupied a pre-fabricated firehouse and functioned as
the Department's twelfth engine company through the end of summer when
it was disbanded with the closing of the exposition on September 9,
Organized on January 1, 1928, the Box 315 Association was chartered for the mutual benefit of Camden Firemen, its principal purpose being to fund a commemorative badge for all members of the Department retiring at twenty or more years of service. In the event that an active member died before achieving retirement status, a death benefit in the sum of $20.00 would be paid to the member's estate. Its title, 315, was arbitrarily chosen as the number of the first Box transmitted over the circuits, following the organization's formation. A cabinet of Officers; a By-Laws Committee; Auditing Committee; and a Board of Trustees comprised of one representative from each fire company in the City, were designated by election and appointment.
All active members of the Department were expected to join the organization. An initiation fee of $1.00 and regular dues assessed at ten cents per month, funded operations. Any member of the Department that failed to join the organization within three months after completing his probationary period in the Uniformed Force, was required to pay an initiation fee of $5.00, plus the average of all dues and assessments incurred from the time he was eligible to join. The association met on the first Wednesday of each month.
Charter members of the By-Laws Committee were Chester Andrus, Chairman; Harry Wagner, Henry Zook, Harrison Pike, William Spencer and Nelson Andrews. The association is believed to have actively functioned until sometime during the 1940s.
The South Camden neighborhood near Haddon Avenue and the White Horse Pike was predominantly a light industrial area located near the city limits. Comprised largely of warehouses, small factories and lumber yards, the occurrence of major fires in this area was quite infrequent over the years, despite the potential fire load. The exception occurred on June 27, 1929, at the George D. Wetherill Varnish Company. A fire broke out in the thinning room of the production facility and the plant fire brigade failed in its attempt to control the hot, volatile blaze. The flames quickly spread to involve an adjacent building. The Box was transmitted for the White Horse Pike and Ferry Avenue at 11 :59 A.M. Engine Company 10 responding second due, could see the looming column of smoke and fire nearly a mile away, as they rounded the bend at Morgan and Fairview Streets.
Fire fighters were inundated with nearly one explosion every minute during the first hour of operations. Around 1 P.M., some five hundred barrels of benzine exploded shooting columns of flame 200-300 feet in the air. Moments later, a sixty gallon tank was blown above the dense cloud of smoke. The rocketing missile burst into flaming shrapnel, scattering firemen, employees and spectators in every direction.
Third Alarm companies arrived at a scene of pandemonium as flaming oil and chemicals rained down on the area surrounding the plant. Several members and other persons were burned, some severely. Fireman Irving Bishop of Engine Company 8 was overcome by dense smoke. By 1:30 P.M., the plant was a raging inferno. Four railroad tank cars filled with gasoline were burning furiously, as were five freight cars on an elevated siding that adjoined the rear of the complex. The fire threatened three 6,000 gallon naptha tanks on the adjoining property of the Haddon Motor Company as well as several other nearby businesses. Under conditions of extreme heat and noxious fumes, fire fighters fought bravely to contain the firestorm. By the time an army of firemen gained the upper hand on their enemy, five of eight buildings at the plant had been destroyed. Twenty people were reported injured and damages exceeded $200,000.
Over many decades, more than just a few of the City's long established industries sustained recurring fires, several of which were especially notable. Industries containing highly combustible stock or inflammable materials processing were ripe for recurring fire incidents - many of spectacular proportion. Along much of the City's waterfront, from North Camden southward to the far regions of South Camden, were the sites of many industrial facilities that posed serious fire problems. Lumber yards, rag factories, leather tanning, and paper manufacturing were just a few of a great many and diverse industries that posed formidable and ever present challenges for fire fighters. The West Jersey Paper Manufacturing Company was one particular firm involved in numerous fires over the years, many of which were quite arduous for the Department. As a long established industry, West Jersey Paper held several production and warehouse facilities throughout various parts of the City.
Shortly before 8 A.M. on July 11, 1929, a twelve year old boy walking along Front Street near Elm saw smoke coming from the West Jersey Paper Company. The factory building, a large structure, was heavily fortified with reinforced doors and steel mesh window screens. The Box at Point and Pearl Streets was transmitted and Engines 6, 4 and 2 with Ladder 1 and Battalion 1 turned out. As the alarm was received shortly before Roll Call, several units responded with the manpower of double strength companies. The building's fortifications posed serious forcible entry and ventilation problems for arriving fire fighters. By the time companies got water on the blaze, the entire paper and lime stock was ruined. The factory erupted into huge clouds of dense, acrid smoke as the fire extended to roll after roll of paper stock. Armed with pike poles and axes, Truckies wore themselves out forcing entry to countless windows and doors along the perimeter of the building.
As handlines were advanced to the interior of the structure, Hosemen Harry Layton and George Kirby became lost inside the factory under worsening smoke conditions. Fortunately, Kirby located a doorway and guided Layton to the outside where both men collapsed in the street. The new mascot of Engine Company 2, Jack the Airedale, belonged to Fireman Artie Batten. This blaze was the dog's first major fire and he caused considerable comment among the men. Dashing into the heavily charged building, accompanying Fireman Batten and braving the dense smoke for twenty minutes at a time, the mascot would only return to the street when Engine 2 would withdraw for a blow of fresh air. For many years to come, Jack would attend hundreds of fires with Engine Company 2, and would later be killed in the line of duty. In all, seven fire fighters were overcome in the dense smoke of the paper factory. The blaze resulted in a $65,000 property loss and was the third serious fire to occur at that location in twenty-five years.
For over one-hundred years dating back to almost the inception of the Department, fire companies have always held a variety of mascots in the form of firehouse pets. In the days of the glorious horse drawn era, the familiar Dalmatian originally bred as carriage dogs were especially compatible among fire horses. In later years of course, many firehouse dogs would come in a diverse array of mixed breeds, some of which were quite intelligent and highly suitable to firehouse life. Among the predominate and ever faithful canine, there were certain firehouses that harbored some quite unusual mascots over the years.
During the nineteen thirties, Engine Company 6 at Front and Linden Streets, North Camden was the home of Jocko, a ringtail monkey. At twelve years of age, the highly intelligent primate was the most popular individual in the neighborhood and the men of SIX ENGINE believed the monkey to be almost human. Jocko was said to shake hands with more persons than a politician and if a pert young lady would pass the firehouse, he would visibly flirt with her. "If Jocko likes you, he will give you a kiss for the asking" the men would say. And when someone would strike a match, the monkey would instinctively blow the flame out. The mascot would spend his days in and about the fire station, often seen sitting atop a six foot fence. At night, he slept in the firehouse in a small wire pen that the firemen had fixed up for him.
Opposite the firehouse stood one of the Victor Talking Machine factories where hundreds of employees would greet Jocko daily, morning and afternoon. A particular favorite was Mr. Mitchell, the head engineer at Victor. Jocko would spot him coming a block away and would gleefully squeal and dance up and down until Mitchell arrived with a friendly handshake. Jocko developed an inordinate love for ice cream. An ice cream vendor that passed by each day would give the monkey a bar of ice cream and the monkey looked forward to the daily treat. Then came a day when the vendor just passed by without as much as a hello. Jocko looked after him with mute appeal in his eyes but there was no ice cream. The monkey was heart broken. The next day the vendor did the same thing and continued to come around for a week without a treat. Finally one morning the vendor stopped and handed Jocko a nice cool bar of the confection. The monkey siezed it and threw it in the vendor's face, yelling with glee as the man sputtered in anger.
Jocko would occasionally go sight seeing throughout the neighborhood and would disappear from the firehouse for long periods. The members of Engine 6 would have to raise a ladder or climb a telephone pole and check the roof tops of distant buildings to locate the mascot. Jocko also held what seemed to be an instinctive disdain for profanity. At the sound of any irreverence, the primate would scream and cry in protest. The monkey would take a distinct like or dislike for adults, but children could do anything with him short of downright abuse. If kids would get too rough, he might pick up his water pan and empty the contents on them. For reasons known only to Jocko, the animal held a demonstrable hatred for cops and motorcycle policemen in particular. When a cycle patrol would pass the firehouse, Jocko would rise up on his haunches to hiss and chatter incessantly. If the police officer would sound the siren, the animal would bear his teeth screaming and tugging at the chain that restrained him. Captain George Saunders would yell at the mascot and Jocko would immediately cease his tirade.
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