100 years since fire in Binghamton factory claimed more than 30 lives
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"We've certainly had disasters here, the ACA shooting a few years ago, floods," said Gerald Smith, Broome County Historian. "But in terms of human loss, this is the largest tragedy we've ever had."
It's been 100 years since flames ripped through the four-story Binghamton Clothing Factory building. A newer building has since taken its place; but, the memory of what happened on July 22, 1913 lives on.
"A fire started in the basement of the building. There was only one staircase, from the basement to the top floor, which acted like a vacuum and sucked the fire up through the building," said Smith.
Lt. Thomas Harding, Binghamton Fire Department, added, "A lot of the windows and stairwells were open and that led to the intensity of the fire. It grew rapidly. Only 60 people out of the 100 were able to escape."
Many of those trapped were women and immigrants. Workers did practice fire drills, but the building wasn't mandated to have a fire escape or sprinkler system.
"The first trucks to arrive had their wooden ladders. They were singed by the fire, just arriving on scene. There was no chance of getting close to the building," said Harding.
Smith added, "Some leapt to their death, jumped off the roof. Some were trapped by the flames. The building collapsed after 18 minutes."
The fire came one year after another deadly factory fire in New York City, resulting in stricter safety codes.
"This is only a year after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed over 100 people. New York State did something good and productive," said Smith. "They had a factory fire investigation commission come out. They mandated that any building over two stories has to have a fire escape, has to have a sprinkler system and a fire disaster plan."
Although 31 lives were lost that day, many more could have perished, had it not been for a select few who risked their lives by heading back into the building.
"I'm a distant relative of Nellie Connor, who died in the fire and she was credited with saving lives before she died," said Harding.
Along with Connor, company foreman Sidney Dimmock also lost his life rescuing workers. Some of the victims were so badly burned they were buried in unmarked graves at Spring Forest Cemetery. Their names were etched on a monument there so they are never forgotten.
The cause of the fire was never determined. Historians said it's thought to be arson by an employee who was arrested for setting a similar fire in another location.
A memorial service will be held Monday at the original location of the factory on Wall Street at 2 p.m. After that, a prayer service will be held at Spring Forest Cemetery.
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