7 Men Overcome by Gas Fumes in Tank Car at Pavonia Yards

Camden Courier-Post – February 10, 1938


Pulmotor Used to Revive Two Victims; Patrol Driver Injured

New Radio Aides Police

Seven men were overcome by an intoxicating gas in a railroad tank car yesterday at the old Pavonia car shop, Twenty-fourth street and Sherman Avenue.

Two of the victims were working inside the car and the other five were overcome while rescuing the unconscious men,

Three of the victims were taken to Cooper Hospital where pulmotors were required to revive them.

The victims:

  • Earl Hawk, 20, of 2906 Buren Avenue.
  • James Christy, 22, of 2710 Pleasant Avenue.
  • Fred W. Dickman, 30, of 123 Holly Avenue, Maple Shade.
  • Anthony Alexander, 32, of 2800 Sherman Avenue.
  • Samuel Ritterbach, 27, of 2836 Pleasant Avenue.
  • Robert Selah, 28, of 1237 North Thirty-third Street.
  • Charles Visconti, 22 of 6128 Irving Avenue, Pennsauken.

Hawk, and Christy did not regain consciousness until an hour after being taken to the hospital and were admitted. The other four were treated and released.

Gas Fells Worker

The trouble started when Hawk entered the car to remove residue of the compound by loading it into buckets which were pulled to the top by Selah.

Bucket after bucket reached the small opening of the car. Then they stopped coming up. Selah peered into the car and saw Hawk lying on the bottom in about a foot of the compound.

Selah, last night in describing the incident, said he descended into the car and tried to lift Hawk up the ladder.

“All of a sudden I started to feel as if I was drunk,” Seelah said. “I climbed the ladder myself and yelled for help just before I passed out. That is all I remember until I came to at the hospital.”

Selah’s call for aid was heard by the workmen in the yard who rushed to his rescue. One of the first to reach the car after Selah’s call was Alexander.

Rescuers Stricken

“I heard his call and climbed up the car and then into it,” Alexander said. “I tried to push Selah to the top but the gas got me, also. When I reached the hole in the car I saw Selah dancing and singing on the bottom of the car. I finally came to in the patrol wagon on the way to the hospital.”

The same feelings seemed to come upon each of the rescuers as they attempted to lift the victims to the top of the car by means of a rope tied around their waist. As each was overcome they began to exhibit different forms of drunkenness. Some were singing, some laughing and some crying.

Hawk and Selah are employees of Edward Thomas, of Riverside, who has a contract to clean the cars while they are being repaired in the shop.

Warned of Fumes

Thomas said both men were instructed in the uses of gas masks as late as yesterday and were warned never to go into any of the tank cars without their masks.

Selah said he had been into the car with a mask on before Hawk entered.

“I came out of the car, taking off my mask, and then I saw Hawk going in without his. I yelled to warn him but he apparently didn’t hear my warning.”

When police were informed of the men being overcome, all radio cars were called to the scene through the new two-way equipment. The radio patrols reached the car shop within two minutes due to the greater efficiency of the new system by which they were able to receive exact instructions after the first alarm on where to proceed.

Walter Patton, driver of the patrol which took the men to the hospital, was treated for an eye in jury after he was struck by a piece of flying stone.

Safety Heads Respond

Deputy Chief William Harring responded with firemen when the alarm was sounded. There was no explosion or fire, Harring said.

Commissioner Mary W. Kobus, director of public safety, rushed to the scene immediately after the first report and began an investigation.

The five workers employed out· side the car were the first to respond to Selah’s call for aid, and entered the car one at a time in an attempt to remove the victims. When the five failed to come up, other workers joined in the rescue.

A volunteer, equipped with a gas mask attached to an airline hose, went into the car and brought out one of the victims.

Workers then alternated in entering the car until all seven men had been brought out.

The old Pavonia yards now are used by the Eastern Tank Gas Company, which repairs and rebuilds cars for hauling gas, oil and similar materials.

The men were working inside one of the cars which recently had contained the road paving compound, Harring said. The tank contained a benzol solution, which generates a strong gas.


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