After budget cuts brought on in great part by poor leadership at the state level from both political parties under Governors Whitman, McGreevey, Codey, and Corzine the City of Camden laid of a large number of its professional fire department at the end of 2010. Former Chief David A. Yates had offered three plans on how to cope with the situation, all were rejected by parties at Camden's City Hall, and a plan for the Fire Department, which to date I have not been able to find out who authored, was handed back to the Chief. Chief Yates subsequently chose to retire, and Chief Michael Harper was appointed as his replacement. Chief Harper inherited a no-win situation, and the losses began almost immediately. With Fire companies closed in different parts of the city, response times to fire calls increased, homes that could have been saved were destroyed, and civilians injured.
On June 6, 2011 a vacant two-story twin at 821-823 of Chestnut Street was destroyed by fire. Three days later, on June 9, fire broke out in the abandoned warehouse on Chestnut Street that formerly housed the Reliable Tire Company. When the few available local units arrived on the scene, hydrants were found to have been vandalized, delaying efforts to extinguish the blaze, which soon went to 12 alarms. Units were called in from surrounding communities, obviously taking a great deal of time to arrive on scene. In the mean time, high winds caused the fire to spread to adjacent buildings that formerly were occupied by the Camden Pottery Company, and homes on Orchard, Louis, and Mount Vernon Streets. Ten occupied homes were completely destroyed, as were all the industrial buildings, and thirteen other homes on Chestnut Street were badly damaged by smoke and water. Conditions and results of this blaze mimicked in almost every way the Poet's Row fire of August, 1972 where a vacant leather factory once occupied by the John R. Evans & Company caught fire and two and one-half full city blocks of homes on Byron, Burns, and Milton Streets were completely and utterly destroyed.... a deadly combination of an old and abandoned industrial building, short-staffed fire department, low water pressure and high winds being among the contributing factors.
In the early morning hours of June 11, 2011 another abandoned industrial building was reported to be on fire. The former Howland Croft, Sons & Company mill on Broadway between Winslow and Jefferson Streets was devastated by a blaze that went to eight alarms. One house at the corner of South 4th and Winslow and three homes on Winslow Street were damaged by smoke and water, but fortunately, none were destroyed.
Rumors of arson were flying through the city when, on Tuesday, June 14 a vacant twin at 107 North 34th Street was gutted, with the adjacent home taking a great deal of smoke and water damage.
On June 19, ANOTHER vacant industrial building went up in flames. The building in the 1600 block of Federal Street, originally a soap works and in more recent times a facility belonging to Concord Chemical, went up in flames. This fire was confirmed as an arson a few days later.
In the meantime, calls for fire service great and small continued. On June 23rd, a vacant industrial building in the 1000 block of Empire Avenue saw fire, just a few days after the Concord Chemical blaze. On June 25th, a fire was knocked down in the vacant building at Davis and Copewood Streets, the original home of the Coriell Institute, now located on Haddon Avenue.
At 11:47 PM on the night of June 25, the Camden Fire Department was called on to extinguish a blaze at 1018 Kenwood Avenue in the Parkside neighborhood. Camden City companies were dispatched to 1018 Kenwood Avenue when multiple callers reported a working fire. Camden County Dispatch advised that the homeowner had gone back into the dwelling and did not exit. EMS arrived and reported all occupants to be out of the structure. Squad 7 arrived with heavy fire showing from division 2 of a two story end of the row dwelling. Battalion 1 placed all hands in service. Crews knocked the fire quickly without injuries. Another fire was extinguished at 925 & 927 North 3rd Street on Monday, June 27th.
In the early morning hours of July 2, 2011 a fire was extinguished at 1304 Sheridan Street, and as it was being wrapped up, the corner store at 876 Fairview Street went up in flames, with adjoining homes being damaged by smoke and water.
At 1:55 AM on the morning of July 5, 2011 units of the Camden Fire Department extinguished a fire at the River Link Ferry pier at Wiggins Park. Ron Trout from www.phillyfirenews.com reported the following:
B/C 1 reported he had fire on the River Link Ferry Pier with extension to the actual ferry. Engine 6 went in service with the deck gun as Squad 7 and the rest of Engine 6's crew stretched 2.5 inch hand lines. S/C PFD Marine Unit 1. Command reported the fire was contained to the pier with minimal extension to the ferry
For more coverage of this incident, click here.
As with the web page covering other Camden Fire Department events, if you can identify anyone that I've missed, please e-mail me. (I'm terrible at at names and faces).
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