Camden Fire Department
Fire, Rescue, & Safety Operations
December 19, 1971
Fire at the former John R. Evans leather factory

This page and the other pages in this series are the successors to the series of web-page about the Camden Fire Department that began with the page Camden Fire Department: The Fires of the Summer of 2011. On this and other pages in the series you will find pictures and information regarding different events and aspects of the fire service in Camden, New Jersey. 

On December 19, 1971, at 3:39 P.M., Box 1415 was transmitted for a reported factory at the John R. Evans Leather Company, Second and Erie Streets, North Camden. As units of the 1st Battalion left quarters to respond, a huge, menacing column of black smoke could be seen looming to the north. At the height of the fire, this column was visible as far away as Burlington County, over twenty miles from the City. First arriving units transmitted second, third and fourth alarms in quick succession as fire spread rapidly through three blocks of one hundred year old brick and frame buildings.

Numerous special calls for mutual aid, above the fourth alarm were made as fire extended to nearby dwellings. The entire five building complex was destroyed. This Camden landmark founded in 1858, closed just prior to the fire and had employed over 700 people. During the fire, Ladder Company 3 had its water tower in operation with aerial raised to maximum extension. Without warning, the turntable sheared from it's mount and lifted off the apparatus, plunging the ladder and Fire Fighter Thomas DiBiaso over fifty feet to the roof of an adjoining building. The turntable operator, Fire Fighter David Sanders, was also injured. Fire Fighter DiBiaso would be retired as a result of his disabling injuries. 

Five neighborhood juveniles were arrested and charged with setting the fire. 

At 5:29 PM on August 23, 1972 fire would again strike the old leather factory, with disastrous results. Remembered as the Poet's Row fire, a combination of high winds, low water pressure, apparatus awaiting parts to be purchased for repair, and a lack of manpower gave Camden arguably the greatest fire disaster the city had ever experienced, rivaling and in some ways surpassing the Hollingshead fire of July 1940. Flaming embers from the Evans buildings ignited homes in the Poets Row neighborhood of North Camden. When all was said and done, all the homes on both sides of the 200 blocks of Milton Street and Burns Street had been destroyed, as well as all the homes on the north side of the 200 block of Byron Street, and several on the south side. A number of properties on Erie Street were also heavily damaged.

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). I'm somewhat behind as of this writing in captioning photos, as things have been quite busy since New Years Day! 

Phil Cohen
January 26, 2012


Camden Courier-Post - December 20, 1971
Thomas DiBiaso
David Sanders
John R. Evans Leather Company
Pierce Avenue
Berkley Street
North 2nd Street
Erie Street


Dense smoke billows from former John R. Evans Company leather tanning plant in North Camden
Photo by Robert Cave

Jack Plaskett - Joseph M. Nardi - James Bienkowski

Ladder Company 3 (second alarm Truck) gets water on fire at the former John R. Evans Leather Company leather tanning plant in North Camden on December 19, 1971. This incident went to a Fourth Alarm. Photo by Bob Bartosz

Photo taken moments after Ladder Company 3's aerial fell. Photo by Bob Bartosz

Photo by Bob Bartosz

Photo by Bob Bartosz

It took 3-1/2 hours to bring the blaze under control. Photo by Bob Bartosz

Photo by Bob Bartosz

Camden Courier-Post - December 20, 1971
Angelo D. Malandra - John Giletto - Harold Pike - Thomas DiBiaso - Thomas Grieff
John R. Evans Leather Company - Cooper Hospital - North 2nd Street - Erie Street

March 1972 Edition

The Fire
December 19, 1971
John R. Evans
Company Plant

Photo by Bob Bartosz