Leonard Iannelli

Leonard Iannelli, about 1957

Leonard Iannelli, born into a family of dedicated firefighters, followed in the footsteps of his father, Frank Iannelli, who had lost his life while battling a fire as a member of Engine Company 9 on April 5, 1942.

Leonard Iannelli, a graduate of Camden High School in June 1942, joined the esteemed ranks of the Camden Fire Department in the mid-1950s. With unwavering commitment and a strong sense of duty, he quickly climbed the ranks, attaining the rank of Captain by 1964. At the start of that year, he was proudly serving as the Captain of Ladder Company 2.

Tragedy struck on the chilling night of January 14, 1964, when a fire erupted at the intersection of Broadway and Chestnut Street. The alarm bell sounded, and Box 328 summoned the firefighters into action. Responding promptly, Engine Company 1, Engine Company 8, Ladder Company 2, and Battalion Chief Theodore Primas of the 3rd Battalion swiftly arrived at the scene. Although the police had managed to rescue nine occupants prior to the firefighters’ arrival, the fire had already gained significant strength, with dense smoke billowing from the first floor of the three-story Walmart Tailors building. In a fierce battle against time and the elements, the firefighters sprang into action.

Engine Company 8 promptly extended the first hose line, while Ladder Company 2 received orders to force open the door. Suddenly, the plate glass windows shattered, and a ball of fire engulfed the store’s front. Recognizing the intensifying threat, Chief Primas called for a second alarm and ordered the deployment of master streams. The fire rapidly spread throughout all floors, breaching the roof as the relentless cold winds whipped the flames out into the street. The extreme icing on ladders, apparatus, and street surfaces added treacherous obstacles to the already dangerous operation.

Deputy Chief Austin Marks, who had responded to the second alarm, urgently requested an additional engine company and immediately ordered the recall of 35 off-duty firefighters, summoning them directly to the fire scene for relief purposes. As conditions deteriorated further, a third alarm was transmitted to reinforce the ongoing relief operations. It was during this critical period that Captain Leonard Iannelli, commanding Ladder Company 2 as the first-due truck, suddenly collapsed on the sidewalk, struck down by a heart attack. Fellow firefighters rushed to his aid, while Battalion Chief Primas personally attended to the unconscious officer. The ambulance raced toward the hospital, with Chief Primas performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation throughout the journey. Despite their valiant efforts, Captain Iannelli was tragically pronounced dead upon arrival.

Meanwhile, the fire raged on, relentlessly consuming the Walmart Tailors building. The collapsing roof unleashed havoc, causing sections of walls to tumble onto Chestnut Street. With fierce determination, the firefighters redirected their focus toward protecting the neighboring Camden Roofing Supply Company, employing a multitude of master streams. Remarkably, their combined efforts shielded this crucial exposure. In another remarkable feat, they managed to save the sprawling John’s Bargain Store, located just a few doors down from the inferno. The battle against the relentless blaze continued for over six grueling hours, finally bringing it under control shortly before midnight. However, fire crews remained on-site for more than 24 hours, diligently ensuring the area was secure. The scene that greeted them on the following morning resembled an ethereal ice palace, as firefighters, armed with axes and halligan bars, valiantly pried frozen hoses embedded in thick street ice.

The sacrifice of Captain Leonard Iannelli, who bravely gave his life in the line of duty as a Camden firefighter, mirrored the tragic fate of his father. This poignant loss left an indelible mark on the department and the community. Heartbreakingly, Leonard’s brother, Carmen Iannelli, would later follow in their father’s and Leonard’s footsteps, making the ultimate sacrifice in service to the City of Camden in 1975. Their selfless dedication, unwavering bravery, and profound sacrifice will forever be honored and remembered.

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