Large Force of Volunteers Fights Theatre Fire
Characterized as the worst fire to strike the Borough of Runnemede, N. J., a community of 4500 persons on the Black Horse Pike, a near conflagration was averted only by the combined efforts of some 200 volunteer firemen from a dozen different communities in the Camden County area.
The fire, which did damage estimated at $100,000 to the building housing the Runnemede Theatre, at Ninth Ave. and Black Horse Pike, occurred early in the morning of Feb. 9th, 1950. The two-story structure, measuring 75×200 feet, of brick and frame construction with tar roof, was erected in 1928.
Paradoxically, nineteen years ago the same building was saved from destruction by the Runnemede Fire Company when fire was found in the roof structure. Fast work in opening up the cockloft and getting water on the fire held the loss at that time to $300.
The latest fire, which generally wrecked the interior of the structure, apparently had its origin in the cockloft, about the center of the building. It was discovered by William J. Macdowell, Jr., of Runnemede, as he was passing the theatre. He immediately sounded an alarm, received by the Runnemede Fire Department at 6:12 A.M.
Initial response by Runnemede fire fighters included a 750 GPM pumper; a 350 GPM pumper; a rescue truck and ambulance. One minute later, at 6:13 A.M., a second alarm was radioed in by Louis J. Porter. Runnemede Fire Marshal. This brought Gloucester with a 750 GPM pumper and 65-tt. aerial ladder; Bellmawr Fire Company No. 1 with a 500 GPM pumper and utility truck; Bellmawr Park Fire Company with a 500 GPM pumper; Glendora Fire Company with two 500 GPM units, an ambulance and rescue squad.
As the seriousness of the blaze became more apparent, a third alarm was dispatched, also by two-way radio (Marshal Porter) at 6:18 A.M., bringing Haddon Heights with its 500 GPM pumper and city service ladder; Mt. Ephraim No. 2 with a 500 GPM unit and quad; Chews Landing Fire Company with a 500 GPM pumper and tank truck; the latter was used to protect homes on Tenth and Eleventh Avenues—all available hydrants in that area being employed to supply hose streams on the main fire. In addition to the foregoing, Blackwood Fire Company answered with their 600 GPM pumper and Mt. Ephraim Police Reserves responded, and dispatched an ambulance.
Photo by Harold F. Fisher
At 6:30 A.M., a fourth alarm was sounded by telephone to gain further aid. This brought Haddon Fire Company of Haddonfield with a 75 ft. aerial ladder and one 500 GPM pumper.
The fifth alarm, also by telephone, at 6:40 A.M., summoned Grenlock Fire Company with its 600 gallon booster truck to protect outlying houses. The Bellmawr Fire Company Rescue Squad also responded with one ambulance to this call.
As the fight to confine and control the fire continued, the Second Alarmers Association of Willow Grove, Pa., was requested at 7:00 A.M. to dispatch their canteen, and the unit arrived at 7:40 A.M. to serve sandwiches, coffee and doughnuts to the small army of firemen. The Ladies Auxiliary of the Runnemede Fire Company also served coffee and hot soup to the volunteers throughout the day.
Traffic, normally heavy on the Black Horse Pike, which is State HighwayRoute 42, was detoured from 6:15 A.M. until 10:00 A.M., when the first was brought under control. Members of the Camden County Fire Police Association; Mt. Ephraim Police Reserves; Runnemede Police; Haddon Heights Police; Gloucester Township Police; Bellmawr Police; Audubon Park Police and Camden County Park Police, patrolled the area, directing traffic and handling the crowds of curious.
The fire fighting was directed by Fire Chief Hartley Betts, assisted by Assistant Chief Harry Beeby, Captain Charles Koch and Chief Engineer Jesse Morgandale, all of the Runnemede forces. All alarms for aid were transmitted by Louis J. Porter who, with Camden County Fire Marshal Johannis Sinon of Woodlynne, N. J., investigated the origin of the blaze.
Numerous hand lines were used from vantage positions to confine the fire, which broke through the roof and threatened adjoining properties. Ladder pipes were operated on the Gloucester City and Haddon Heights aerial trucks.
Injured firemen, treated at the scene of the fire by members of Rescue Squads, were: George Storms, Gloucester City Fire Department No. 1; William Blattner, Bellmawr Fire Company. They were cut by falling debris. Frank MacKrea of Bellmawr Fire Company. No. 1 was taken to Cooper Hospital in Camden with a possible broken shoulder and broken wrist.