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 1874-1885|
The nation's centennial year found the Democrats gaining control of City Council. On April 8, 1876 Claudius W. Bradshaw was elected Chief Engineer; his Assistant Engineer was George Horneff and Thomas McLaughlin was named Extra Engineer. The Foreman of Engine Company 1 was Alfred Ivins and of Engine Company 2, William H. Bassett. On April 1st of the following year Bradshaw and Horneff continued in their respective positions. Henry Grosscup was named Extra Engineer; Cornelius M. Brown became Foreman of Engine Company 1 and James M. Lane the Foreman of Engine Company 2.
At 3 A.M. on Thursday, November 8, 1877 a fire was discovered in the trimming room of Charles F. Caffrey's Carriage Manufactory. This four-story brick structure occupied a quadrangle 100 feet by 108 feet on Market Street with a three-story brick building on the Tenth Street side. Fire fighters arrived promptly only to find the blaze well advanced with flames being fed by materials stored in the buildings. Both structures and their contents were destroyed with a loss of $105,000. The light from this blaze was so bright that a watchman at the Washington Mills in Gloucester City rang the factory's bell believing the town was ablaze. It was said that half the citizens of Gloucester shared the watchman's belief.
Camden, again, rendered valuable assistance to Cape May, New Jersey on November 8, 1878. Shortly after 7 A.M. a workman on the roof of the Stockton Hotel saw smoke coming from the roof of the Ocean House, some four blocks away. Minutes later, the fire alarm was sounded when a woman, also saw what was now dense smoke emanating from the same area. By 8 P.M. a general alarm was sounded by ringing Cape May's church bells. This call brought townspeople to assist the inadequately equipped fire department in battling the flames.
The fire spread rapidly and it was soon obvious that help was desperately needed to stop the raging blaze. Cape May Mayor Williams and Fire Chief Colonel Lansing sent a dispatch to General Sewell, Superintendent of the West Jersey Railroad, requesting a steamer and much needed hose from Camden. The Camden Fire Department responded to the urgent call on a special train
In the absence of any organized leadership, Chief
Bradshaw assumed command of the entire operation
and immediately placed his engine in service at the corner of Washington and Jackson Streets. This
position was considered essential to saving the remainder of Cape May. The Camden apparatus
directed two large hose streams on the Centre House
and the burning buildings on Jackson Street. Homes were being wet down on the opposite sides of
Washington and Jackson Streets to prevent the
spread of the flames. Camden‘s Bravest held that
position for more than an hour, being supplied with
water from a large surface well and two elevated
When the fire appeared to be under control, flames were discovered coming from the Columbia House some three blocks away from the origin of the blaze. Chief Bradshaw ordered his units to relocate to Columbia and Guerney Streets and special called a second steamer and hose cart from Camden.
According to the newspaper, the Cape May Wave, Camden's steamer "rendered very efficient aid in checking the flames“. The Stockton Hotel had been spared the wrath of the flames due to the aggressive stand by Camden Firemen who got the upper hand on the blaze around 3 P.M.
Camden's second steamer arrived in Cape May around 4:30 P.M., by which time the conflagration had been halted. This engine, under the command of former Chief and current Fire Commissioner Robert Bender, assisted in darkening the remaining fires. The New York Times stated that had it not been for the Camden Fire Department, the flames would have burned until after midnight instead of being controlled between 5 P.M. and 6 P.M. Camden's companies remained on the scene well into the night, assisted by Engine Company 3 from Philadelphia which had arrived too late to help control the huge blaze.
Two thousand bath houses, numerous hotels, private homes and businesses were destroyed. Half of the city, some thirty-five acres, had been devastated by the inferno that resulted in a loss of $500,000.00.
In 1879 Republicans gained control of City Council and on April 3rd new officers of the Department were named. Samuel Elfreth was elected Chief Engineer with James M. Lane as Assistant Engineer and Henry Grosscup as Extra Engineer.
On March 27, 1882 John Campbell was named Extra Engineer with George Tenner as Foreman of Engine Company 1 and William H. Bassett as Foreman of Engine Company 2. On July 29th of that year Daniel A. Carter replaced Samuel Elfreth as Chief Engineer and Henry Wagner replaced James M. Lane as Assistant Engineer.
The fire had an auspicious beginning in the
roasting rooms of Johnson's Coffee Essence
The fire department received the alarm from Box 34 at Broadway and Kaighn Avenue. Companies arrived quickly but lost considerable time getting water on the fire since the nearest hydrants were more than two blocks away at Broadway and Liberty Streets and on Mechanic Street above Fourth. Firemen John Sutton and Charles Alcott narrowly escaped death when they fell through the roof while battling the blaze. Twice the fire was thought to be extinguished only to have the flames erupt again.
When the blaze was finally put out the factory had been destroyed, and an adjacent store owned by Samuel Jackson had sustained fire damage. Had it not been for the valiant efforts of fire fighters the fire would have spread to surrounding structures. There had been two small fires at the factory prior to this major blaze.
Daniel A. Carter and Henry Wagner continued in their respective positions until 1885. In 1884 William Morris was named Extra Engineer with Samuel Buzine as Foreman of Engine Company 1 and James M. Lane as Foreman of Engine Company 2. William Morris remained in his position in 1885 but the popular Samuel Elfreth was again elected Chief Engineer replacing Daniel A. Carter. Samuel Buzine replaced Henry Wagner as Assistant Engineer; John Stockton became Foreman of Engine Company 1 and Henry Grosscup Foreman of Engine Company 2.
At 2:30 A.M. on March 21, 1885 fire struck a
two-story blacksmith shop at 19th and Stevens
Just two hours later a loud explosion rocked
Haddon Avenue and Federal
Street. A kitchen
A fire was reported at the Cooper's Point
Manufacturing Company on Saturday, June 13, 1885
Less than two days later four fires occurred
within a twenty-four hour period. The first struck
At 1:45 A.M., while the Department was still at
the scene of this blaze, Box 16 at Tenth and
At 6:20 A.M. an alarm from Box 23 brought fire
fighters back to the wood yard which had
At 10:30 A.M. a chimney fire was reported at 219 Point
Street. That fire was extinguished in spite
At a special meeting of the City's Fire Committee held on July 7, 1885 the fire department was reorganized. Eighteen of the Department's thirty extra (call) men were dropped, leaving only four for each company. Each engine added a permanent foreman and two hosemen; the ladder company added two laddermen for a total of eight new full-time firemen.
The new foremen were John Stockton, Engine Company 1 and Henry Grosscup, Engine Company 2. The reorganization became effective on August 1st and the foremen were given charge of their respective units at an annual salary of $720. The hosemen, tillermen and laddermen received a yearly sum of $600. James Roach and Jacob Nessen were added to the rolls of Engine Company 1; Charles Robinson and Isaac Shreeve to Engine Company 2 and Benjamin Middleton and Thomas A. Walton to the Hook & Ladder Company. The reorganization enabled the Department to operate under their $20,000 annual budget.
Just two nights after the Fire Committee's
meeting, Camden's Bravest acted promptly and
A tornado struck parts of the city on August 4th
of that year, knocking over the firehouse bell
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