Doom Lands on Pier Saved at Earlier Fire
The January 1973 issue of Fire Engineering featured a story entitled, “Big Streams Stop Pier Fire.” It was a saga of a six-alarm fire that destroyed Piers 27 and 25 North in Philadelphia, and of the fire department’s valiant fight to “save” Pier 24, just 120 feet to the south.
It was “saved” for its own spectacular, fiery end which came at 12:47 a.m. Saturday, July 7, when a box alarm was struck for Delaware Avenue and Callowhill Street.
As Battalion Chief Frank McAnulty turned the corner four blocks from the quarters of Battalion 4 onto Delaware Avenue, he saw a blaze so intense that it was already showering sparks on the roadway of the 225-foot-high Benjamin Franklin Bridge and casting a glow over the city’s waterfront.
Quick succession of alarms
The 160 X 400-foot metal-clad pier with open wood substructure was completely ablaze.
McAnulty picked up his radio and ordered the second alarm transmitted, and to prepare for third and fourth alarms. The second was transmitted at 12:49 a.m. One look on arrival and the third was ordered at 12:51, followed by the fourth a minute later. Thus, four alarms were sounded within five minutes of the time the street box was pulled.
Commissioner Joseph R. Rizzo special-called Engine 32, the city’s third fireboat, which is berthed on the Schuylkill River, to join the two Delaware River fireboats, Engines 15 and 23 in the fight, and he also requested that the Philadelphia Naval Base and the Coast Guard fireboats respond.
Just 160 feet south of Pier 24 was Pier 19, a large two-story brick, concrete and metal pier which was subject to intense heat. The efforts of the boats, elevating platforms and water booms protected this exposed pier. With the collapse of the superstructure of Pier 24, Rizzo declared the fire under control at 1:11 a.m., only 37 minutes after the first alarm.
Work in 97-degree heat
A fire detail and the boats remained on the scene for 72 hours as the heavy, open, wood substructure continued to burn down to the waterline, emitting dense clouds of smoke. Firemen suffered from smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion Saturday afternoon as they worked in temperatures as high as 97 degrees, but no serious injuries resulted.
The cause of the fire in the vacant pier is under investigation by the fire marshal’s office.
Thus, the pier that was saved was lost!