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Officers remember Camp Hill Prison riots on 29th anniversary

LOWER ALLEN TOWNSHIP, Pa. — 29 years ago today, parts of Camp Hill were in flames. Three days of mayhem and violence, as inmates rioted at the Camp Hill State Prison.

Fox 43 spoke with two officers who were there when it happened and remember the chaos.

The two officers are now the chiefs of Swatara and Susquehanna Townships. At the time they were both young officers, having barely started their careers. To this day, they’ve never seen anything like it.

Every time Rob Martin drives down Lisburn Road in Camp Hill, he thinks about this very day.

“Aways remembered it,” Martin said. “Always will. Watching the fire and the destruction.”

Now the Director of Public Safety for the Susquehanna Township Police Department, Martin and Chief Darrell Reider of Swatara Township were rookies back in 1989, and they had no idea what they were about to see when they reported for work that day.

“Quite frankly I was a little bit scared,” Reider said. “When I looked to my left and my right I could hardly see any officers and I was told that if somebody hit the second gate that I was to stop them from getting past that point."

Both officers remember a lot of smoke, a lot of fire, and the largest gathering of law enforcement they've ever seen.

“It gave me goosebumps watching them form up as a team, and the courage,” Reider said. “I had a relatively minor role. I got assigned to the exterior and had to watch a fence. A lot of those state troopers got assigned to go back into the prison and retake the prison and they showed a lot of courage."

“One of the things I’ll always remember is an inmate ran in front of me on the other side of the fence and he had a portable radio,” Martin said. “And I knew if they have access to communications that is a dire situation.”

Though uncertain of what was going to happen at any given moment, there was one thing they were sure of; that the inmates weren’t going to win.

“No. Not at all. Never entered my mind,” Martin said. “Because I believe in my profession. And I knew that it was only a matter of time before the prison would be re-taken and all of the citizens that live around here would be able to sleep safely.”

No one was killed, but more than 100 people were hurt and at least twenty were taken hostage. According to the prison, strict policies, overcrowding, and understaffing sparked the riot. Both officers said they used this experience to help younger officers.