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.
By the time the department got to the clothing factory, every window was a sheet of flames. A hearty breeze that day made things worse, as firefighters had to fight flames that spread to other buildings.
Many of the women were trapped inside. It was a grisly sight for onlookers on the street as some attempted to escape the building. While most did, at least 31 did not. Those numbers were likely higher, but some of the remains were unidentifiable, and others were never accounted for.
This tragedy had its heroine and hero who saved many, but they died in doing so.
Nellie Connor, a 31-year veteran of the company and a mother figure to the women, remained in the building the whole time, hurrying people out.
Sidney Dimmock, a foreman for 16 years, who was in charge of the fire drills, did as much as could in the rescue, finally being lost in a shroud of smoke.
Much of the Binghamton community turned out for the funeral and procession a few days later. The streets were lined from the Stone Opera House on Chenango Street, where a mass funeral was held, all the way to the Spring Forest Cemetery, in the city's First Ward. In all, about 20,000 attended. A large memorial in the cemetery honors the victims today.
The fire loss was estimated at $100,000. Investigations and hearings failed to discover the cause of the fire. The Binghamton Clothing Co. never re-opened.
This tragedy followed another fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City that killed 146 garment workers in March 1911. Those two fires contributed to the evolution of modern safety laws for industries throughout the state. The Binghamton fire led a concerned industrialist, George F. Johnson, to install automatic sprinkler systems and other protective devices in his vast array of shoe factories in the area.
On Monday: The arts take to the open air in Oneonta.
City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or e-mail him at email@example.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com.