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Columns

July 19, 2008

Binghamton fire spurred improved safety laws

Ever since we've been young we've been instructed to pay attention to fire alarms and practice escape drills at home, school and the workplace.

There are times we've probably been guilty of not paying attention to the alarms, thinking they were false.

On a steamy July day in 1913, some women on the second, third and fourth floors of the Binghamton Clothing Co., once found at 17 Wall St., were working when the fire alarm went off. They looked at each other, and some shrugged, ignoring it for several minutes, thinking it was just another false alarm.

How wrong they were that day. Their delay snuffed out their lives, and those of many others.

It was just about an hour after lunch on Tuesday, July 22. There were 111 people at work in the brick, four-story factory that faced the Chenango River, in an area close to today's Boscov's Department Store and the Binghamton Regency Hotel.

Most of the workers were women. Time was money to them, as they did piece work on the sewing machines. Having gone through several fire drills recently, they didn't want to stop work this time.

Flames had been discovered under a front stairway in the building, formerly a cigar factory. Reed Freeman, the president and owner, with Amber Fuller, a cutter, threw buckets of water on the flames. But rolls of material on the next landing went up like tinder.

The stairways and elevator shafts drew the flames and smoke to the top floors, making the building like a furnace within a few minutes.

Attempts were made to reach the Central Fire Station using both telephone systems in existence at the time, but the fire company was on another call. A continued drought had kept firefighters busy for days. In the past 24 hours alone, there had been five other calls.

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