Shadow of Death Stalks Firemen’s Family
IANNELLI came to this country in 1904 from the sleepy little
mountain village of San Bartolomeo, Italy. He settled first in
Boston with friends and went straight to work as a helper at
construction sites. He was 13 years old. A few years later he
moved to Camden, where he worked at a number of jobs before
joining the Army to fight in World War I.
came back to Camden after the war and in 1921 he had himself a
very good year, the kind of year that marks a turning point in a
he landed a job as a hoseman with the Camden Fire Department, a
job that would keep him working during the Depression. Then he
met Rosina Carlone, who, as fate would have it, was also a
native of San Bartolomeo. Rose, as she was called, had only
recently come to America and was living in Newark. When word
reached Frank through the grapevine that a young girl from his
village was living only a few hours away, he made arrangements
to meet her so that he might learn the latest news about his
family and friends back in the old country. Hoping to make a
good impression, he made it a point to call on Rose in his
visit went very well. So well, in fact, that six months later
Frank Iannelli and Rosina Carlone were married. They moved into
a rowhouse at 3rd and Berkeley streets in Camden, and in short
order two sons, Leonard and Carmen, were born. Years later, in
1937, a third son, Frankie, arrived.
most Italian-American families, the Iannellis were very close.
Rose would often take the boys down to the firehouse to see
their father. Then, on an April night in 1942, tragedy struck.
After fighting a dump fire in the city, Frank Iannelli collapsed
in the firehouse at 27th and Federal streets and died of a heart
attack. It happened as he was climbing the firehouse stairs. He
was 51 years old.
spares no family. Sooner or later all of us will have to pick up
a telephone in the middle of the night. The death of Frank
Iannelli hit Rose and the boys hard, but the family closed ranks
around Leonard, who followed in his fathez:'s footsteps by
joining the fire department in 1948. Five years later Carmen
was not until a bitterly cold night in January 1964, a night on
which the temperature dropped to one degree above zero, that the
Iannelli family began to think that fate had singled them out
for more than their share of heartache.
that night, Leonard, 41 years old and by then a captain in the
department, toppled smoke inhalation.over in the ice and
snow at a two-alarm fire in a men's clothing store at Broadway
and Chestnut Street. He died before he reached the hospital, of
heart failure brought on by smoke inhalation.
IRONY of Leonard's death left the family shattered and
bewildered. The pain was keener because neither Leonard nor his
father had a history of heart trouble. They had been strong
vibrant men, full of life. In neither case was there a warning,
a hint of danger. Their deaths were the hardest kind to accept -
totally unexpected, as arbitrary, it seemed, as the death of
someone struck by lightning.
there was a consolation for the Iannellis, it was only the
thought that certainly now no greater tragedy could befall them.
The worst had happened; only better days could lie ahead.
was now the head of the family and the only Iannelli left in the
Camden Fire Department since Frankie, unlike his father and
brothers, had not been caught up by the mystique of the
fireman's life and had broken with tradition by going to work
was a quiet, sensitive man who preferred to spend his
idle hours around the firehouse working crossword
puzzles and solving riddles rather than taking part in
the practical jokes and locker room humor for which
firemen are notorious. He was broad-shouldered and
balding, with a homely but honest face, and as he
approached 50 the resemblance to his father became
his wife, Jean, and the rest of the family, he did not
appear to brood about what had happened to his father
and brother, nor did he seem to worry about falling
victim to a similar fate. But there were times at the
firehouse at 27th and Federal, where he had been
stationed since shortly after his marriage in 1960, when
it was clearly very much on his mind.
day, climbing the firehouse stairs with Vince Orme, who
is now the city fire marshal, Carmen pointed to the
second floor landing and said: "That's where it
happened. That's where my father died. That's where I'll
probably die too."
was wrong. He was not destined to die on the landing
where his father died. He was destined to die about 50
feet away, out on the sidewalk, unravelling five-inch
hose after a fire in the storage yard of a wastepaper
warehouse on Pine Street.
was destined to die last Thursday, not only at the same firehouse
in which his father died, but at just about the same time of
day-two o'clock in the morning-and at· just about the same age -
MEN, a father and two sons, all firemen, all killed on the job by
heart attacks. The irony is almost too awful for the mind to fully
grasp and comprehend. In the 100-year history of the Camden Fire
Department, it has never happened before. It will probably never
Carmen's death, the grief of the surviving members of the Iannelli
family can no longer be measured. It can only be sensed.
can be heard in the nervous, high-pitched voice of Frankie
Iannelli, who is now 38 and who stated very matter-offactly the
other day, sitting in a car outside the RCA buildings in Camden,
that be does not expect to live much past 50 either.
it can be seen in the eyes of the widows. Terribly sad eyes, like
those of children who, having been punished unfairly, cringe in
expectation of still more punishment. In the eyes of Jean Iannelli
and Leonard's widow, Olga, but most of all in the old careworn
eyes of Rose Iannelli, who has lost the most, and who alone has
seen the haunting tragedies of the Iannelli family unfold from
their very beginnings, from the seeds sown long ago in the
mountains of San Bartolomeo.