Title: Firefighter
Birthdate: 1841
Death Date: August 20, 1901
Plot Location: Section 101, Lot 418

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John and his three siblings were born in Philadelphia to Irish parents, and he started out in life as an apprentice blacksmith. He enlisted in the 95th Pennsylvania Infantry on September 18, 1861 but deserted on October 12 and returned to blacksmithing.

In the late 1860s he began volunteering as a fire fighter with the Washington Volunteers, one of many independent fire companies serving neighborhoods of the city. About that same time he  married Martha Cardwell. Their only child was born in 1869 but he died two years later from hydrocephalus, or fluid on the brain.

Philadelphia officially instituted a municipally controlled fire department with a paid staff in 1871, and that’s when John began his 30-year career as a full-time firefighter. He became a widower when Martha succumbed to kidney disease and a dilated heart in 1893.

John was about 60 when the Atlantic Refining Company in Point Breeze was rocked by explosions and a tremendous five-alarm fire in August of 1901. More than a dozen oil tanks went up in flames over the course of two days, and there was little that could be done except to let it burn itself out. Preventing the spread was the goal, because every time a tank exploded, flaming oil had the potential to spill onto Passyunk Avenue and into the Schuylkill River.

John and two others lost their lives when a huge storage tank collapsed and engulfed them in flaming oil. At least 38 other members of the department were severely injured. Hundreds of others had  minor burns and were treated at the scene. 

A letter of sympathy was sent to the department from the Atlantic Refining Company along with a $1500 check for the relief of the families of the three men.

John’s body was placed with Martha’s in the Mount Moriah plot he purchased eight years earlier.

Japanese maple tree in front of a monument at Mount Moriah Cemetery

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