Devil’s Night '96

Joseph Louderback discusses “Mischief Night” in Camden, NJ, and “Devil’s Night” in Detroit, and how the efforts of residents and firefighters are helping to decrease the number of pre-Halloween arson fires.


The glow of pre-Halloween arson fires dimmed considerably over previous years in Camden, NJ, and Detroit but firefighters still saw plenty of action. Adopt-A-Block programs, where residents surveil nearby structures, neighborhood patrols and strict "zero tolerance" curfews supplemented months of...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

The glow of pre-Halloween arson fires dimmed considerably over previous years in Camden, NJ, and Detroit but firefighters still saw plenty of action. Adopt-A-Block programs, where residents surveil nearby structures, neighborhood patrols and strict "zero tolerance" curfews supplemented months of boarding-up and razing vacant properties to keep serious structural responses down.

2_97_devil1.jpg
Photo by Jeff Rudolph
The first engine on the scene of this Devil's Night fire at Nagle and Ford in Detroit found heavy fire blowing out the rear of a vacant dwelling. The fire was controlled quickly.

Media accounts from the "Motor City" suggested a slight increase with 142 fires over the three-day period from "Devil's Night" through Halloween and into Saturday morning. Another account listed 158 fires, a drop from 354 incidents in 1994. Some fires this year were blamed on windy weather and falling power lines. Vacant homes and garages bore the brunt of structural responses in Detroit.

Camden's 250-member fire department, which fields eight engines, three ladders and one rescue company, experienced numerous structure fires this year with an estimated 60 runs on "Mischief Night," according to Battalion Chief Joseph Marini. Unlike previous years (Camden's worst deluge was 1991), fire officials in 1996 canceled mutual aid staging of volunteer companies at city firehouses. The influx of outside help grew from a heavy workload in the early 1990s in 1992, some 135 mutual aid companies rolled into the city from as far away as Middlesex County in northern New Jersey. Rain cut that night's arson short.

In 1996, activity stretched from the normally busy North and East Camden areas to South Camden, where blazes in row frames and a large Queen Anne dwelling taxed units. By 9 P.M. on Mischief Night, palls of smoke from a half-dozen "all-hands" blazes blanketed the riverfront city. Special "second section" engine companies made up of career members and chiefs shared quarters with first-due apparatus. If initial units found work at one location, help was sent but the backup units stayed put, ready to respond to additional incidents in first-response districts. The volunteer mutual-aid plan remained as it does on any normal night.

Basing its battle plan on prevention measures that brought Detroit success, Camden relies heavy on the community, police support and fire investigators. The method can be used by any fire department seeking to keep a lid on forecasted "trouble period" arson. The steps are simple with their success lying in a cooperative venture between citizens and government. One can't exist without the other.

2_97_devil2.jpg
Photo by Jeff Rudolph
Fire rips through a vacant house at Fields and Vernor on Detroit's east side.


2_97_devil3.jpg
Photo by Joseph Louderback
In Camden, NJ, a turn-of-the-century mansion was fully involved during the 1994 pre-Halloween spree.

2_97_devil4.jpg
Photo by Joseph Louderback
In Camden, NJ, a turn-of-the-century mansion was fully involved during the 1994 pre-Halloween spree.


2_97_devil5.jpg
Photo by Joseph Louderback
Camden, NJ, firefighters were dispatched to an estimated 60 runs, including numerous structure fires, on Mischief Night 1996.


2_97_devil6.jpg
Photo by Joseph Louderback
Camden, NJ, Chief Fire Marshal Herbert Leary inspects flammable devices that were found during Mischief Night.

Detroit demolished over 800 vacant buildings and removed 2,000 abandoned vehicles. Federal officers from many agencies like the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and Secret Service joined 30,000 residents on patrol. A City Council ordinance prohibits the sale of gasoline or other fuels in portable containers during a targeted time period. Yellow emergency lights placed atop vehicles increased the eyes of the law on the neighborhood level. Arrests for curfew violations continued to make an impact.

Figures released by the Detroit Fire Department show a major facelift since 1984's three-day tally of 810 responses. Ten years later, there were 354 incidents.

This content continues onto the next page...