The
Camden
Fire
Department

1980 to 1990


 

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.

The years 1864-18731912-1928, and 1929-1950 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 June of 2008. Pictures will be added soon.

Phil Cohen
Camden NJ

From Camden Fire Department 1869-1994
1980-1990

ANOTHER DECADE AND NEW CHALLENGES

The nineteen eighties would rival the previous decade in the volume of sustained fire activity and the total number of alarms, but without the degree of civil disorder so prevalent throughout the seventies. By 1980, Engine Company 9 in East Camden would be rapidly approaching 3,000 annual alarms as they led the Department over several consecutive years. Areas like East Camden and Cramer Hill, long held as stable communities with low rates of fire activity, were now in the forefront among statistical fire data. Unlike predominant brick and masonry construction peculiar to large sections of North and South Camden, the eastside and Cramer Hill have been long noted or their large, two and one-half story wood frame dwellings. Frequently of twin design and almost always of balloon construction, they presented the most formidable of fire problems. Originally single family dwellings, in later years it was not uncommon to have several families occupying these properties. Over many years, units of the 2nd Battalion would respond to hundreds of spectacular fires in these buildings.

1980 would record twenty-six Greater Alarms and eight civilian fire deaths, among 131 fire fighter injuries. For the first time, the Department would approach ten thousand annual alarms. Of 4,400 alarms generated by street box, nearly 4,100 were malicious in nature representing a false alarm rate of 92%. Only eight percent of all street boxes were pulled for legitimate reasons as the Department again considered alternative measures to combat the problem.

On March 12, 1980, a smoky third alarm for a drug store at Broadway and Washington Streets, South Camden, spread to adjoining properties. At 9 A.M. on March 24th, a Box was transmitted for a fire on Haddon Avenue near Park Boulevard, South Camden. Engine Company 7 responding first due reported a large one and two-story commercial building on Haddon Avenue with heavy smoke. Engine Company 8 coming in second due from a different direction, further reported that they had "another" large commercial building on Louis Street pushing heavy smoke. In reality, the building that fronted on Haddon Avenue actually extended a full block through to Louis Street. Three alarms were transmitted as fire rapidly spread throughout the building threatening many adjoining exposures.

On June 7th, a spectacular fourth alarm destroyed a lumber yard at Second and Spruce Streets. South Camden, On August 21st at 5 A.M., a third alarm burned out a row of vacant dwellings at Fourth and Pearl Streets, North Camden. A week later on August 27th, yet another third alarm for vacant row dwellings occurred at Fifth and York Streets, North Camden. On the evening of October 23rd, Engine 7 turned out for a verbal alarm reporting smoke in the neighborhood on Baxter Street. Three alarms were transmitted for a heavily involved warehouse at Orchard and Sycamore Streets, one block directly behind the firehouse.

During 1980 the Department would convert all of its two and one-half inch hose with fittings and appliances, to screw thread couplings. For over a hundred years, Camden utilized an unusual type of coupling called the Jones Snap fitting, also known in the City of Camden as "snap-Jones", named after its inventor, a Mr. Jones. Originally manufactured by J.W. Moon and later by the John H. Clay Company, both of Philadelphia, the coupling was virtually unknown throughout much of the fire service in the United States. The coupling was used predominantly in and around the Cities of Camden and Philadelphia, with some additional use in the Baltimore, Maryland and Norfolk, Virginia areas.

Comprised of heavy brass, the female coupling had two spring loaded ears of beveled design, to which a male fitting with an extruded lip was attached. Every fire fighter was issued a personal tool called a hose pick that was inserted behind the female ear to break the connection for separating male and female couplings. One principal advantage over screw thread design was that of durability. Unlike screw couplings and particularly male fittings, there were no exposed threads subject to damage and wear. Likewise, frozen couplings of Snap Jones design were easier to separate than screw threads. Some critics held that screws were more dependable in terms of not becoming uncoupled by the force of impact when the line was dropped from the bed of an apparatus, but such occurrences were quite rare. In any event, this unique design well served the Department for over a century until its dispatch to just a footnote in history.

November 3, 1980 was an especially busy day for units all around the City. During the afternoon hours, an A.D.T. special building Box was received for a warehouse at Sixth and Everett Streets, South Camden. Arriving units found heavy smoke throughout a large, two-story commercial building and pulled three alarms for this incident. Just a few hours later that evening, the dispatcher transmitted the Box for a vacant factory at Sixth and York Streets, North Camden. Engine Company 6 responding first due, pulled the second alarm on arrival. As the second alarm was being transmitted for the factory, the dispatcher was receiving numerous cal1s for a fire at 28th Street and Cleveland Avenue, Cramer Hill. Engine Company 11 responding second due on the second alarm to North Camden, was redirected by the fire dispatcher to take in Cleveland Avenue. Arriving first due at 28th Street, Engine 11 reported a big twin two and one-half story frame, going from the basement to the roof. ELEVENS ordered a second alarm for this Box.

In the spring of 1981, following three year tenure as Chief of Department, Theodore L. Primas retired after nearly thirty-five years of service in the Uniformed Force. Chief John J. Mogck Jr. was appointed as his successor. Chief Mogck was born in the shadows of the North Camden Shipyards and raised during the years of the Great Depression. Educated in the Parochial Schools of Camden and later at a Catholic University, John J. Mogck Jr. became a decorated and disabled veteran of the Second World War. He went ashore on the beaches of Normandy and fought through the Battle of the Bulge. His career in the fire service would span nearly forty years. Like his predecessor, Theodore Primas, the Fire Administration that Chief Mogck would inherit was fraught with fiscal constraint while the demand for fire services continued to reach all time highs.

As Chief John J. Mogck Jr. assumed the helm of the Department, the City faced yet another fiscal crisis amid looming budget deficits. An ever decreasing tax base coupled with recurring shortfalls-in revenue, created the worst possible conditions. The City's ability to increase revenues was thwarted by an ever shrinking source of ratables. While thousands of vacant buildings bled city coffers of critically needed revenue, infusions of State and Federal aid already in place could not close the budget gap. As municipal services were curtailed throughout every city agency, the Fire Department became no exception. On April 13th just two weeks after his appointment Chief Mogck was compelled to order the disbanding of Engine Company 2. Following 112 years of service to center city, Engine Company 2 passed into history.

For 1981 the Department sustained a record high of 38 Greater Alarms for the year. The loss of Engine Company 2 only exacerbated an already overburdened Fire Control Force. With its retrenchment to just eight engine companies, the Department's dependency upon mutual aid services continued to expand dramatically. While other urban fire departments in the State of New Jersey of comparable size to Camden, incurred only a few incidents of mutual aid in the course of a year, it was not uncommon for Camden to summon mutual aid services on as many as fifty and sixty occasions within any twelve month period.

Under the auspice of a regional Fire Communications Center, mutual aid services throughout Camden County had been greatly improved, both in terms of coverage and unit deployment. For over a hundred years, the mutual aid policy in the City of Camden involved a cumbersome and inefficient method, whereby mutual aid services could only be summoned upon the expressed order of the Chief of Department. The Department's resource base allocated to a fourth alarm level under the classification of General Alarm would only summon scheduled mutual aid when that incident level was reached.

This policy remained seriously flawed and created interim gaps in the continuity of fire protection. In the event of simultaneous incidents, where many resources were committed in a short period of time leaving large sections of the City devoid of available fire companies, the dispatcher was first required to contact the Chief of Department or his designee, to authorize mutual aid response. While this process of contact and solicited authorization could take more than just a few moments, the assignment and response of mutual aid units were often delayed. The Department would alleviate this long standing deficiency by implementing a policy of automatic mutual aid in conjunction with other refinements.

The Supervising Fire Dispatcher was charged with the responsibility for ensuring that the City never fell below a specified level of available resources. Partial mutual aid coverage would be automatically summoned to maintain this minimum balance at all times. Upon reaching a fourth alarm level or the equivalent thereof, full mutual aid services would be automatically enacted. Also the long standing classification of General Alarm was discarded, as response policies were expanded to a ninth alarm level to include the automatic deployment of mutual aid units. These refinements substantially enhanced the quality of fire services in the City, and also made optimum use of the Department's regional communications capability.

One of the first major incidents to occur under the new mutual aid policy was a spectacular seventh alarm for the H & M pallet factory at Walnut and Pine Streets, South Camden. Shortly after 9 P.M., on July 13, 1981, first alarm nits found a well advanced fire in a large outside yard spreading through hundreds of piles of stacked wooden pallets. Tremendous fire conditions ignited thousands of tinder dry, industrial size pallets, as Greater Alarms were transmitted in rapid succession. Buildings occupied by the National Heating Company on Magnolia Avenue became seriously exposed as blazing fire brands ignited the roofs of other nearby properties. A densely populated residential neighborhood immediately adjoining the fire was evacuated by Police as fire storm conditions whipped cyclonic columns of flame hundreds of feet into the sky. Chief Mogck transmitted sixth and seventh alarms with orders for incoming companies to take hydrants on Haddon Avenue and stretch into the fire from over five blocks away. Numerous master streams employed along the perimeter of the blaze, barely reduced the blistering temperatures. At the height of the fire, the manpower of two engine companies advanced a deckpipe up a driveway to cover a seriously exposed fuel tank while a third company manning a big handline, drenched the crews to protect them from withering heat.

On March 8, 1981, shortly before noon, the Box was transmitted for Mt. Ephraim Avenue and Olympia Road in the Fairview section of South Camden. As the responding companies were underway, the dispatcher began receiving numerous calls for a fire at the Gaudio Brothers Garden Supply Center. The 3rd Battalion ordered a second alarm on arrival as heavy fire raced across the ceiling of the one-story, block long building. A looming column of black smoke was visible for miles as the fire building, without exposures, was destroyed in this third alarm.

Among numerous other second alarms, another third alarm on April 20, 1981, destroyed a vacant commercial building near Fourth and Mt. Vernon Streets, South Camden. On July 6th shortly after 5:30 P.M., units of the 3rd Battalion turned out for Broadway and Jackson Streets. Four alarms for another spectacular lumber yard fire kept units heavily engaged for hours. During the windy afternoon of November 2nd, three alarms for a pallet factory at Eighth and Bailey Streets, North Camden, challenged fire fighters as extreme radiant heat threatened nearby dwellings. The placement of master streams checked this potential conflagration.

The month of August 1981 was especially busy for East Camden fire fighters. Units of the 2nd Battalion attended several second alarms in the East Camden section. Shortly after midnight on August 4th, a telephone alarm was received for a vacant factory near 17th and Federal Streets. Three alarms were transmitted for this Box as fire fighters fought to get the upper hand on a stubborn blaze in a vacant block long commercial building. On August 29th near 9 P.M., units again responded to 17th and Federal Streets for a fire in a lumber yard. A fifth alarm plus numerous special calls were transmitted for this incident as more than 200 fire fighters battled tremendous fire conditions for several hours.

During 1982 the Department responded to a record high of nearly eleven thousand alarms, thirty-seven of which were Greater Alarm incidents. Of these, the most notable incident involved yet another spectacular blaze in a complex of mill buildings in the Cramer Hill section.

On the evening of June 30th, a full assignment of units were dispatched on a phone alarm to State Street and River Avenue for a reported dwelling fire in the Ablett Village Housing Projects. Upon arrival units found nothing, and conducted an investigation of the neighborhood before declaring the incident a false alarm. There was no evidence of smoke or fire anywhere in the area. Just twenty minutes later the Box for State and River was again transmitted, now reporting a factory.

Within ten minutes of his arrival, Chief Mogck ordered simultaneous sixth and seventh alarms, followed a few minutes later by the eighth alarm. Companies coming in on Greater Alarms were ordered to take hydrants many blocks away from the fire and piece each other out in pumper to pumper relays. Numerous master streams and ladderpipes were brought to bear on the blaze as the fire storm generated ground winds estimated at 30 MPH. At the height of the fire, as many as ten separate buildings in the Pon Pas complex were fully involved, several of which individually, would have been third or fourth alarm incidents in themselves.

As Engine Company 11 entered River Avenue from 27th Street, the members couldn't believe their eyes. The officer grabbed the radio handset and reported that he was still twelve blocks out and had heavy fire showing in the sky. Among so many memorable fires throughout the years, this incident would join the list as certainly one of the most spectacular in the long history of the Department. The former site of the Bartol Tire Company comprised a complex of two, three, and four-story loft buildings, all of mill type construction. At the time of the fire, the complex was occupied by the infamous Pon Pas Waste Paper Company, a long established firm with a history of major fires throughout the City of Camden. The buildings in the complex were loaded from floor to ceiling with huge bales of waste paper. The corner structure at State Street and River Avenue was a three-story loft measuring 100 x 400. As Chief James Smith, 2nd Battalion, left the firehouse nearly a mile away, he could see massive flames illuminating the distant horizon.

Upon arrival at the scene, Engine Company 11 was met with blow torch conditions as fire involved the entire length and height of the corner loft. As Ladder Company 3 came down the hill on East State Street approaching River Avenue, they could see fire venting from more than fifty windows. Tremendous radiant heat conditions made the intersection untenable as Engine Company 11 attempted to get its deckpipe in service at the corner of the building. Third, fourth and fifth alarms were pulled within five minutes of the initial alarm. No one could understand how such a catastrophic volume of fire could develop in such a short period of time. Fire fighters had answered the false alarm near this intersection just twenty minutes earlier.

Within the first thirty minutes, the fire extended to involve no less than five interconnected buildings. Chief Mogck responding on the third alarm arrived within twenty minutes to find fire storm conditions, as tons of burning paper stock fueled the ferocious blaze. Upon arrival, Chief Mogck ordered an immediate evacuation of numerous dwellings in the Ablett Village Housing Project. On the East State Street side of the fire separated by just the thirty foot width of the street, stood a massive complex of one-story commercial buildings, some which measured 500 x 1000 in size. These properties, the former site of an RCA warehouse facility, were severely exposed by radiant heat and a tremendous flying ember problem. Located downwind of the fire approximately one-half mile, were the Conrail freight yards, one of the largest rail facilities on the east coast. Hundreds of tank cars, box cars and other rolling stock were seriously exposed by large burning fire brands that billowed skyward and were carried toward East Camden in a huge thermal column.

Within ten minutes of his arrival, Chief Mogck ordered simultaneous sixth and seventh alarms, followed a few minutes later by the eighth alarm. Companies coming in on Greater Alarms were ordered to take hydrants many blocks away from the fire and piece each other out in pumper to pumper relays. Numerous master streams and ladderpipes were brought to bear on the blaze as the fire storm generated ground winds estimated at 30 MPH. At the height of the fire, as many as ten separate buildings in the Pon Pas complex were fully involved, several of which individually, would have been third or fourth alarm incidents in themselves.

As the fire communicated across East State Street to involve a large one story commercial building in the former RCA complex, the ninth alarm was transmitted with units assigned to cover this critical exposure. In the interim, several engine companies were special called to the vicinity of East State and Federal Streets nearly a half mile away, to perform brand patrol in residential neighborhoods of East Camden, where embers were reported on the roofs of many frame dwellings. At least two more engine companies above the ninth alarm were also special called to the Conrail Yards downwind of the fire, to extinguish and monitor flying brands in that sector. Fire storm conditions existed for more than three hours until numerous structural collapses and dozens of master streams began to abate the flames. Overhauling hundreds of tons of waste baled paper would last for nearly a week. In a large yard at the center of the complex, a dozen forty foot box trailers, also loaded with baled waste paper were incinerated and contributed to the massive cleanup of ruins. Some forty fire companies had to be used to control this incident.

On February 10, 1982, about 2 A.M. a smoky fourth alarm heavily damaged several offices on the fourteenth floor of the City Hall tower.

Between March and May the Department would attend at least a dozen second alarms. A third alarm on March 12th burned out one apartment on the ninth floor of Northgate II, a twenty-story apartment building at Seventh and Linden Streets, North Camden. On June 21st, a tough third alarm in an occupied warehouse near 11th Street and Ferry Avenue, South Camden, taxed the endurance of fire fighters under conditions of heavy smoke and hot, humid weather. The summer months of July, August and September also remained very active among a dozen other Greater Alarms and many working fires.

On October 6, 1982, a few minutes after 6 P.M., the Box was transmitted for Seventh and Pine Streets, South Camden, reporting a fire in a commercial building. Engine Company 8 arriving first due, found a vacant one-story warehouse, 150 x 300 with fire venting through the roof. Four alarms were pulled in quick succession to prevent the blaze from extending to numerous occupied row dwellings that adjoined the fire building. On November 9th, yet another third alarm gutted a fourth floor apartment in the Northgate II high rise at Seventh and Linden Streets, North Camden. Just two weeks before, a smoky late night blaze occurred in an underground parking garage at the Northgate I Tower, on the opposite side of Seventh Street.

A very active year for Greater Alarms would close on December 27th with a third alarm involving a row of vacant dwellings at Ninth and State Streets, North Camden. This midnight blaze routed several families from nearby homes, into the cold darkness as fire fighters worked to contain the involvement of four buildings.

A MATTER OF RISK MANAGEMENT

Among nearly eleven thousand alarms during 1982, the Department also sustained a record high of more than 6,000 malicious false alarms for a single year. In some regions of the City, it was not uncommon for an engine company to answer as many as ten and twelve false alarms at the same pulled box in a single day. An epidemic of malicious false alarms from street boxes were stripping many areas of the City of essential fire protection as companies responded from one false alarm to the next. This burden, coupled with an increasing number of working fires posed serious risk to fire fighters and public alike. The Fire Administration was compelled to re-evaluate its mission and develop effective solutions to combat this ever growing problem.

Initial considerations focused upon the total elimination of the municipal fire alarm system. This solution would transfer all public reporting of fire incidents to the domestic telephone system. Among a number of cited concerns, the availability of telephone service - both public and residential throughout many areas of the City remained highly problematic. Public telephones frequently disabled by vandals who burglarize coin receptacles, left many neighborhoods without public communications. Likewise, an increasing number of city residents living at or below poverty level while faced with the choice of buying food or paying the telephone bill, occupied homes without residential phone service. The matter of reliability in the telephone system was another concern. A widespread telephone outage would pose serious ramifications if the public couldn't get a dial tone. Fire services would virtually cease to exist without an effective means to report fires.

One viable but costly alternative concerned the replacement of the mechanical pull box system with electronic voice reporting. Fire alarm boxes on the street would be hard wired for voice communications between the public and the Fire Dispatcher. A number of cities had reduced false alarms by an overwhelming number as a result of adopting such voice technology. The premise behind this successful design concerned a personís unwillingness to activate an ERS Box and then stand on a street comer in plain view, while engaging the dispatcher in a verbal dialogue for the purpose of reporting a malicious alarm. The result of a feasibility study to determine project cost for converting the current mechanical system proved cost prohibitive in terms of limited capital funding relative to other municipal priorities.

As the City was politically unprepared to abandon the municipal fire alarm system in its entirety during 1982, the Fire Administration decided upon ~ policy of selective retrenchment for removing problem boxes from the field, With the ensuing removal of dozens, then scores, and eventually hundreds of boxes throughout the City during the subsequent decade, the rate of malicious false alarms continued to fall each and every year from 1983 until 1992 when the few remaining boxes were finally removed, dismantling the entire system. The application of risk management in balancing the proprieties of public fire protection against the demands of fire service operations was the determining factor in the eventual elimination of the system. As well, many other major cities across the United States would also dismantle their long established systems in the interests of operations.

Another matter involving the judicious application of risk management concerned a long-standing problem with the municipal fire hydrant system. During the hot summer months, the illegal opening of hundreds of fire hydrants created formidable problems for the Fire Control Force. Millions of gallons of potable water were bled from the system while reducing operating pressures to dangerously low levels. Normal operating pressures of 50 to 70 PSI, were frequently reduced to as little as ten or fifteen pounds residual. Far below the minimum level necessary to provide an adequate rate of flow for fire control.

The Fire Department in conjunction with the Water Department attempted to educate the public in the hazards associated with illegally opened hydrants, Public education campaigns both in the schools and the adult community, endeavored to solicit understanding and cooperation. The slogan "Save Water - Save Lives" appearing on bumper stickers and fire prevention literature, sought to focus upon the community's vested interest. Indeed many residents of the City experienced first hand, the problems affecting domestic water supplies as hundreds of neighborhoods complained about having no water above the first floor of buildings, and in not being able to flush toilets or bathe. Still, the problem continued to grow worse with each passing summer.

Sprinkler caps for fire hydrants designed to consume a fraction of the water, were distributed by various city agencies but did little to stem the epidemic of wide open hydrants. Water Department personnel, Police, and local fire companies armed with wrenches, visited hundreds of locations' turning off hydrants only to have them repeatedly opened, often as soon as the fire company left the scene. Even worse, fire fighters, water department employees and even Police were harassed, threatened and barraged by rocks and bottles while attempting to shut down hydrants. I

The occurrence of serious fires during the hot summer months created extraordinary problems for responding fire fighters. A one or two room blaze in a building that should have been handled readily by just two hoselines spread to involve multiple rooms or more than one floor under conditions of low water pressure. In an effort to obtain the necessary volume, fire companies were frequently compelled to connect apparatus to more than hydrant. This approach precipitated a demand for additional manpower and the need to transmit Greater Alarms for incidents that should have been controlled early on, by a first alarm assignment. At one particular incident there were so many hydrants open in the area surrounding a serious blaze, that the Battalion Chief transmitted both a second and third alarm. Second alarm companies were ordered to respond directly into the fire, while third alarm companies were directed to enter surrounding neighborhoods and shut down hydrants in an effort to increase water supplies.

In a proactive approach, the City began to explore solutions through technology, designed to enhance hydrant security and prevent unauthorized operation. Special types of wrenches, fittings, outlet caps and stem configurations were adopted in a never-ending search to find a better mousetrap. Over many years, thousands of dollars were expended by the City on a wide variety of hydrant security systems, each producing limited or less than positive results. In more than just a few instances where adopted technology discouraged the opening of hydrants by unlawful persons, a twenty pound sledge hammer was brought to bear by frustrated individuals, shattering the hydrant ball and rendering the appliance wholly inoperable.

During the nineteen eighties, the Fire Administration recognized that a radical solution was necessary in order to avert a disaster in fire service operations. Indeed, in recent years and particularly during periods of extremely hot weather, the problem in water supplies alarmingly became one of volume rather than pressure. The demand for domestic water coupled with the opening of fire hydrants began to exhaust municipal reservoirs. On several occasions, mutual aid water tankers from rural fire companies were summoned to the City as a measure of last resort. If the reservoirs ran dry, there would be no water in the system and effective fire services would cease to exist. The Fire Administration's solution was the shutting off of hydrants at the street valve. Each appliance that was turned off at the water main was effectively rendered inoperable without the use of a street valve key.

This extraordinary measure was not without its disadvantages. While every fire company was equipped with a five foot long "T" shaped wrench, having to locate the valve box in the street and then activate the hydrant while the fire was blazing, routinely caused some delays in obtaining water. At the scene of serious fires, it was not uncommon to look down a street for several blocks and see teams of fire fighters standing over valve box receptacles at different locations, resembling water witches with "T" shaped divining rods in their hands, looking for water under the ground. Undoubtedly, such delays resulted in additional fire spread and some otherwise preventable fire loss. But the Department viewed the matter in the appropriate perspective that delayed water was far better than no water at all. Certainly an essential measure of effective risk management.

During 1983, the Department took delivery of a new Mack Tower Ladder.

This seventy-five foot rig was assigned to Ladder Company 3 and was particularly well suited for operating at the large two and one-half story frame dwellings so peculiar to the East Camden and Cramer Hill sections. A reduction in the number of Greater Alarms for 1983 would incur a total of 28 incidents or nine less than the previous year. Total activity for 1983 remained well Over ten thousand alarms. Principal Greater Alarms for the year included:

The night of May 6th near II :30 P.M., Engine Company 7 turned out for a verbal alarm from quarters, reporting smoke from the rear of a commercial building on Kaighns Avenue opposite the firehouse. As the housewatchman opened the station's overhead door, the strong odor of rich, acrid smoke was already evident. The Company Officer ordered a line stretched and the pumper connected to a hydrant at the front of quarters. In moments, heavy smoke was pushing from the front of a one-story, commercial type garage building that measured 50 x 100. As Ladder Company 2 began forcing a garage door to gain access for the engine, the interior of the building lit up in roaring fire. Rows of occupied dwellings on either side of the blazing building were saved as four alarms were transmitted for this Box.

At 7 A.M. on June 26, 1983, a third alarm destroyed a vacant building at Broadway and Everett Streets, South Camden. On September 19th, another third alarm roared through a vacant factory at Fifth and Byron Streets, North Camden.

The last major incident of the year occurred on Christmas morning, December 25th. Christmas 1983 dawned on a clear, sunny day with frigid temperatures near the five degree mark. As families everywhere prepared to celebrate the solemn holiday, the men in the firehouses around the City had settled into what everyone expected to be an uneventful tour of duty. Holiday routine as It is traditionally known in the Camden Fire Department, are quiet times in the firehouse. Particularly on special days like Christmas when the environment of the fire station with its concrete floors and the ever present smell of diesel fuel, seem to assume a peaceful, even homey atmosphere. The fire fighters are often engaged in personal activities - some quietly reading or watching a holiday program on television, while still others are busy preparing the noon meal for their brothers.

A few minutes after 10 A.M., the quiet tranquility of the firehouse was shattered by the shrill sound of the alarm tones over the department radio, followed by the blaring voice of the fire dispatcher announcing a structural fire at Fourth Street and Lansdowne A venue, South Camden. Engine Company 8 and Ladder Company 2 assigned first due, left the warm confines of their ancient firehouse and entered the biting cold of Kaighns Avenue heading west toward Broadway. From several blocks away, they could see the gray and yellow streams of smoke blowing over the rooftops. As Engine Company 8 entered the block, heavy menacing smoke billowed from the second floor of a two-story dwelling attached in the middle of a row of eight buildings. In the bone chilling cold of the street whipped by ferocious winds, stood a family of occupants huddled together, some wrapped in blankets, as they watched their Christmas turned into ashes.

The absence of integral party walls allowed the fire to rapidly extend to adjoining buildings. Battalion Chief Ronald Guernon pulled a second alarm on arrival as hose lines were aggressively advanced to the second floors of three buildings. Ladder companies armed with roof saws performed rapid ventilation to stem the spread of fire. As heavy fire conditions took possession of the top floors and cockloft of at least three buildings, third and fourth alarms were transmitted. Fire fighters were punished by the extreme cold and constant battering of gale force winds as heavy icing made footing treacherous. Following a two hour battle, the flames were finally subdued but not before at least four families were made homeless.

Shivering on the sidewalk, the occupants stared in disbelief at the ruins of all their worldly possessions and of what their holiday might have been. Near the front windows of one building a Christmas tree could be seen, still standing in the corner of a room adorned by once colorful decorations, now tarnished an ugly brown and coated in real icicles where tinsel had hung. Ashes and debris now lay where gift wrapped presents had been. As the homeless children wept openly in the street, fire fighters went silently about their work knowing that the real gift that Christmas, had been no loss of life or injuries to the occupants. That the families would live on to enjoy other Christmas Days together.

During 1984, there would be ten civilian fire deaths, seventy-seven line of duty injuries, and twenty-two Greater Alarms.

The principal incident of the year involved a fourth alarm at a block long vacant factory near Delaware Avenue and Elm Street, North Camden, on May 26th. The Box was transmitted shortly after 7 P.M. and first alarm units found heavy fire roaring through the roof. At the height of the fire, the nearby span of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge became a primary exposure and traffic between New Jersey and Pennsylvania was halted for over an hour. Units remained at the scene throughout the night following a five hour battle to control this stubborn blaze.

Like a majority of other cities, for many years the Department utilized station wagons and sedans for Chief Officers and staff personnel. During the nineteen eighties, a radical departure from the use of the automobile emerged in the fire service as an increasing number of fire departments began to adopt light duty trucks as personnel carriers. The vehicles were far more durable than the auto and particularly well suited for heavy use in alarm responses and traversing off road surfaces. In the Camden Fire Department, the vehicle of choice became the Ford Bronco. Its full seating capacity for five persons also made it ideal for transporting groups of fire fighters when making relief between the station and the fireground. During 1985, the Department took delivery of a fleet of eight Ford Bronco trucks.

T he first major incident for 1985 occurred at 6:30 A.M. on the cold morning of January 14th, at Ninth and Grant Streets, North Camden. A third alarm destroyed several occupied dwellings in a block long row of attached buildings. On February 12th, a stubborn third alarm damaged an occupied commercial building on Broadway near Chestnut Street, South Camden. In March, another third alarm ripped through a row of eight attached dwellings at Second and Vine Streets, North Camden. In April, yet another third alarm heavily damaged a church on Benson Street off Broadway.

On July 9, 1985, shortly before 4 A.M., units arrived at the New Jersey Transit bus barns at Tenth Street and Newton Avenue. The block long one-story building held over one-hundred buses parked bumper to bumper, side by side. Less than four feet separated each column of parked coaches. Upon arrival, one bus located several rows back from the entrance was heavily involved, threatening to ignite adjacent coaches inside the building. Heavy smoke filled the storage bays of the terminal and billowed outward from the large door openings at both ends of the structure. A second alarm was transmitted as members hustled to stretch lines and reach the blazing coach. Ever resourceful, fire fighters began to enter the parked buses and drive them out of the terminal on to Newton Avenue. By the time the first due engine had water on the fire, a dozen coaches had been removed from the building and lay randomly parked on surrounding streets. The blaze was under control within a half hour and the Transit Authority credited fire fighters with preventing certain damage to many buses that were removed from harms way.

During 1986, the Department would incur eighty-four line of duty injuries, fifteen civilian fire deaths and thirty Greater Alarms. A fleet of six new Hahn pumpers and a 100' tractor and tiller aerial ladder were delivered to the Department. Engine Companies 1,3,7,9, 10, 11 and Ladder Company 2 received new apparatus. During a five month period, more than fifteen thousand free smoke detectors were installed by local fire companies at one and two family residential dwellings throughout the City. These detectors were made possible by a funding grant from the William Penn Foundation and distribution through the American Red Cross.

Of thirty Greater Alarms for 1986, twenty-nine were second alarm incidents. A spectacular fifth alarm occurred on August 7th, at 12th and Fairview Streets, South Camden. Engine Company 10 just three blocks away, arrived to find a two-story trucking warehouse measuring 200 x 500, heavily involved. Pumper relays over distances of one-half mile were used to supplement water supplies for numerous master streams. During the last month of the year, two church fires would be held to second alarms by the aggressive effort of fire fighters. On Christmas Day at Broadway and Viola Streets, rapid line placement and coordinated ventilation saved a large stone church. On New Years Eve near Broadway and Spruce Streets, and equally aggressive attack by units in the basement of another church also saved this edifice from certain destruction.

As another active year in the city, 1987 would incur eighteen civilian fire deaths and eighty-three line of duty injuries. Of thirty-three Greater Alarms for the year, the most serious occurred shortly after 1 A.M. on March 27th at Baird and Admiral Wilson Boulevards, East Camden. Companies arrived to find a five story motel pushing heavy smoke with reports of numerous occupants trapped above the fire. Second and third alarms were transmitted on arrival with a special call for three additional ladder companies above the third alarm. Numerous rescues were made over ladders as the fire spread through void spaces from the first to fifth floors. Only one fatality resulted from this near catastrophe. Many awards and citations were received as a result of this incident, including Unit Citations to two mutual aid companies from Pennsauken and Collingswood for their effective work.

On March 4, 1987 at Second Street and Atlantic Avenue, a large vacant three-story factory went for three alarms and resulted in several injuries. Windows above the first floor were sealed with masonry block and created serious ventilation problems throughout the operation. Heavy smoke conditions blinded fire fighters as they endeavored to advance interior lines to reach large quantities of burning rubbish. Scores of air cylinders were expended at this incident. On March 23rd, yet another church was saved from destruction at a smoky second alarm on Yorkship Road near Morgan Boulevard, Fairview. Once again, rapid deployment of attack lines coordinated with judicious ventilation, cutoff a rapidly spreading fire.

On April 9, 1987, a third alarm for a row of vacant dwellings kept units busy for several hours at 34th Street and Rosedale Avenue, East Camden. On June 3rd, another third alarm in the same block destroyed some large vacant frames. Again on June 20th, a second alarm occurred in a vacant three-story apartment building on 34th Street near Merriel Avenue. Within a two month period, an entire city block of buildings would be destroyed in several Greater Alarms and numerous working fires along North 34th Street. Shortly after A.M. on October 23rd, a smoky second alarm damaged several classroom facilities at Camden High School, Park Boulevard and Baird Avenue, Parkside. This would be the third Greater Alarm to occur at a city school for the year.

Principal Greater Alarms for 1988 occurred during the month of October. At 2 P.M. on October 26th, a spectacular sixth alarm destroyed a vacant warehouse at 17th Street and River Avenue, Cramer Hill. The property, a one∑ story building was one city block wide and two blocks long, encompassing several acres of land. The warehouse was heavily fortified with chained metal doors and window openings sealed with masonry block. Upon arrival, Engine Company 11 found extremely heavy fire conditions racing through the building on the River Avenue side. Such access barriers created serious forcible entry problems and delayed units in getting water on the fire. At the height of the blaze, a huge column of smoke rising hundreds of feet could be seen as far as 20 miles away. After many hours and numerous master streams, the fire was confined to the original building. An adjoining vacant warehouse of similar size was saved.

Just five days later on October 31, 1988 at 2:30 A.M., the Box at East State Street and River Avenue was transmitted for a reported factory. Engine Company 11 arriving first-due found the adjoining warehouse that had been saved during the previous sixth alarm, now heavily involved with fire extending throughout the block long building. This second incident we t for a fifth alarm and leveled the remaining complex. During January 1988, two church fires within one block of each other near Broadway and Spruce Streets, South Camden, would be termed arson. The first fire occurred on January 6th at 5 A.M. and went for three alarms. The second incident on the evening of January 28th was a smoky second alarm resulting in several injuries to members.

During 1989, the department attended thirty-seven Greater Alarms. The most notable incident occurred at the end of the year on the evening of December 17th during one of the coldest nights in recent memory. Engine 9∑ Ladder 3 and Battalion 2 responded to a verbal alarm for 26th Street and Westfield Avenue, just one block from the firehouse. A passing civilian reported fire in a drug store. Units arrived within moments to find sever~ stores pushing heavy smoke. A second alarm was transmitted as lines were I quickly stretched. Metal security gates and frozen hydrants caused delays in getting water on the fire. As units forced entry to rolling security doors, a sea of flame illuminated the ceiling area of the store.

The fire rapidly spread left and right to involve adjoining properties. The drug store, interconnected among several other buildings, posed serious exposure problems. At the height of the blaze, smoke conditions were so severe that the Incident Commander did not know how many properties were involved in fire. The Field Communications Unit coming in on the second alarm, had difficulty negotiating nearby streets as fire dispatchers cautiously made their way through a veil of dense smoke permeating the entire area. Fire fighters forced entry to building after building, attempting to locate fire extension. An adjoining furniture warehouse became the focus of concern as a seventh alarm assignment was transmitted. Mutual aid units relocating into the quarters of Engine 9 reported hot embers dropping on the apron of the firehouse a block away. The fire burned throughout the evening, totally destroying the drug emporium and heavily damaging two adjoining buildings. Tenacious efforts by fire fighters prevented the blaze from extending to the furniture store. At daybreak, the fire scene resembled a winter carnival. Buildings, apparatus, trees and overhead wiring were frozen solid as the landscape appeared as virtual ice palaces.

Just two nights before the East Camden blaze on December 16, 1989, two third alarms occurred only blocks from each other. The first at 4:30 A.M. leveled a row of vacant dwellings near Second and Chestnut Streets, South Camden. Later that evening, another third alarm damaged a church near Sixth and Walnut Streets. On June 23rd at 8 P.M., a stubborn fourth alarm on lower Broadway near Morgan Street destroyed a vacant commercial building. At 6 A.M. on August 11th, another fourth alarm occurred at an occupied warehouse near Eighth Street and Fairmount Avenue, South Camden. This fire extended to involve an adjoining row of occupied dwellings in a public housing project.

Among thirty-one second alarms for the year, one particular incident destroyed the Cramer Hill Boys Club - a City landmark at 29th Street and Tyler A venue, Cramer Hill. The clubhouse was formed in 1954 to discourage juvenile delinquency. Its sad demise in recent years culminated in this blaze that spelled a death knell for the once proud organization. Numerous Camden Fire Fighters actively supported this institution for many years. Indeed, more than just a few members of the Department grew up in the East Camden and Cramer Hill sections as participating youth. As Engine Company 11 left the scene of the blaze, all that remained were gutted ruins among a host of fond, personal memories.

BEGINNING THE END OF ANOTHER CENTURY

The last decade of the century would begin for Camden Fire Fighters like so many other active years, fraught with heavy fire duty, debilitating injury and heroic action. As truly soldiers in a war that never ends, the early nineties would recapture a period reminiscent of the raging seventies as an increasing number of serious fires honed the occupational skill of newer members.

During 1990 and following nearly forty years of service, Chief of Department John J. Mogck Jr. retired upon reaching the maximum age of service. Chief Kenneth L. Penn was appointed as his successor to constitute the twenty-third Fire Administration in the City of Camden since the inception of the paid department. With some 25 years of service in the Uniformed Force, Chief Penn's career held a number of distinctions including the youngest appointed Fire Captain in the State of New Jersey and certainly one of the Youngest Battalion Chief Officers in the long history of the Department. Like other administrations before him, Chief Penn assumed the reins of an agency struggling to do more with less. Despite continuing fiscal constraints, the Department would make some remarkable strides under this new Fire Administration.

An advancement in professional standards among personnel would be no small achievement. A supervisor's development program administered by the Fire Academy would educate the Department's Officer Corps in management, leadership and incident command functions. A regimented drill schedule for daily training in company level operations was also implemented throughout the Uniformed Force and every member of the Rescue Company achieved professional certification as Emergency Medical Technicians and Hazardous Material Technicians. In other matters, the City's perennial fiscal crises caused years of neglect in firehouse maintenance. Defective plumbing, dangerous wiring, and crumbling masonry in ancient fire stations compelled fire fighters to live under horrendous conditions.

Chief Kenneth Penn embarked upon an ambitious restoration program to rehabilitate firehouses as a budgetary priority. Likewise under his administration, the Department would also adopt a service life extension program (SLEP) for rehabilitating fire apparatus at a fraction of the replacement cost. Once again among ever resourceful fire fighters, the new Fire Administration would benefit from the personal talents of Deputy Chiefs Skip Stinger and Jim Nash. Chief Stinger, a specialist in the fire apparatus industry would well serve the Department in specifications and procurement of new equipment.

Similarly, Chief Jim Nash as an experienced architectural draftsman with professional design and construction skills would highly benefit the Department particularly in the new administration's ambitious restoration program for fire stations. Additionally, Chief Nash's skills enabled him to work closely with the project architect in the design and construction of the Liberty Station, the new firehouse erected in South Camden during 1993. Among so many other initiatives affecting the quality and nature of operations and services, the Fire Administration under Chief Kenneth L. Penn would prepare the Department for its entry into the new century.

1990 would produce another record year for Greater Alarms among thirty-seven incidents. Of these, the most notable occurred on the evening of November 10th at Ferry Avenue and Jackson Street, South Camden. A few minutes after 6 P.M. a telephone alarm was received reporting a fire at Gallagher's warehouse, a complex of huge loft buildings encompassing a site spanning three city blocks. Originally built and occupied by the Eavanson and Levering Company near the turn of the century, the production facility was billed as the largest commercial wool scouring plant in the world.

The buildings, of heavy timber construction, had been converted to warehouse space in later years. As the Chief of the 3rd Battalion entered Ferry Avenue from Broadway, an ominous orange glow was visible in the distance. Upon arriving on the Ferry Road side of the complex, Battalion 3 reported a four-story brick loft building, 200 feet wide by 800 feet deep with heavy fire out ten windows on the second floor and heavy smoke pushing the length of the building. The second alarm was ordered on arrival. Ladder Company 2, as the first due Truck, responded from the quarters of Engine 10. As they roared up Broadway and crossed over the hump at Bulson Street, the distant night sky was ablaze with fire.

Just moments after pulling the second alarm, the fire blossomed through the center of the building and was venting from over thirty windows. Third, fourth and fifth alarms were transmitted within five minutes of arrival. The huge fire building was interconnected with an adjoining mill of similar size. A stiff breeze from the river some two blocks away, fanned the growing blaze as a serious ember problem soon developed. Within the first thirty minutes, the blaze roared through the entire length of the building igniting numerous extension fires in exposures. Eight alarms were transmitted as dozens of master streams battered the warehouse. The adjoining mill was saved. More than twenty mutual aid companies including special calls above the eighth alarm, operated at this incident before the fire was finally contained to the building of origin.

On June 30th, a sixth alarm in a meat packing plant at Broadway and Jackson Streets, South Camden, produced spectacular smoke conditions visible for miles. On August 10th at 2:30 A.M., a fourth alarm destroyed a factory near Beideman and Hayes Avenues, Cramer Hill. Four days later on August 14th around 10:30 P.M., Engine Company 8 turned out for a verbal alarm from quarters, reporting a vacant factory at Sixth and Mechanic Streets, South Camden. As they turned south on Seventh Street from Kaighns Avenue, they could see a six-story, block long loft building with heavy fire venting out ten windows on two floors. The property was erected at the turn of the century and originally occupied as a cigar factory. In recent years it had been converted to unrelated warehouse space. Engine Company 8 ordered the second alarm as they prepared to start water in their deckpipe. Within an hour the fire extended to all floors of the factory, as a seventh alarm assignment was transmitted for this blaze.

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