Binghamton’s Mutual Aid Plan Gets Successful Workout
Several years ago the Binghamton, N. Y., Fire Department, under Fire Chief William D. Thomas, set up a mutual aid plan with fire forces of the county, including Johnson City, Port Dickinson, Hinman’s Corners, Endicott, Endwell, Port Crane, Five-Mile Point, Hillcrest, Binghamton State Hospital and Chenango Bridge Volunteer Fire Departments. Although the system has been on paper for some time, and used in a minor way, the City of Binghamton itself was never forced to translate the plan into action, until February 16th, last, when a three-alarm fire destroyed a three-story twin business block causing loss estimated at $175,000. At that time the plan paid off.
The fire was fought by the entire Binghamton Fire Department, and units of Johnson City, Port Dickinson and Hillcrest, while other forces in the area were shuffled around to protect territory left partially or wholly uncovered by the concentration of forces at the Binghamton blaze.
The fire, said to be the worst in the city since December, 1949, was discovered in a shoe store in the block at 162164 Washington street at 9:15 P.M. by occupants of a store across the street, who notified the fire department. Half of the building was occupied by Cancellation Shoe Store and St. Dennis Furriers and the balance by Sisson’s Toy Department Annex. Two floors in the Sisson section were vacant at the time of the fire. The two sections were not divided by a fire wall.
First arriving firemen found heavy smoke, but no visible flames. They encountered a number of handicaps in getting into action and locating the fire itself. Two cars parked in a posted zone of an alley north of the City National Bank prevented them from moving heavy equipment around behind the burning building. The fire, occurring as crowds of “Dollar Day” shoppers were heading home, was swelled by theatre goers who crowded the area. Two persons were arrested in this connection, one a 28-year-old youth for “interfering with firemen at the scene of a fire” (he hindered the raising of a ladder) and a 30-year-old motorist who drove over a hose line.
The fire was believed to have originated behind a partition, although one theory is it may have started in the basement. At any rate, fire fighters fought in the heavy smoke and excessive heat for 45 minutes before flames showed, at which time a second alarm was turned in. This was clocked at 9:58 P.M. At about this time heat melting gas pipelines and escaping gas added to the firemen’s difficulties. All types of masks and breathing apparatus were put to use by the fire lighters.
At 10:14 P.M. a third alarm was sounded, as the fire continued to spread through partitions and ceiling openings. The fire coursed vertically through the second and third floors, involving the roof area which eventually collapsed, carrying with it both upper floors.
All off-duty firemen had been called with the third alarm which brought out the last of the city’s forces. At that time Chief Thomas called upon the first of the outside departments. Johnson City responded with one pumper company to locate in the Main street fire station to protect the West side of the city. Port Dickinson dispatched a company to locate at the Chenango street station, protecting the North side. The Hinman’s Corners Fire Department assigned one of its two companies to Binghamton’s fire headquarters in Carroll street.
Shortly after, Chief Thomas requested the Johnson City unit to report to the fire and with that the Endwell Fire Department sent a company to fill in at the Main street station. Endicott, meanwhile, located a company at Endwell to protect that community.
The virtue of effective mutual aid coverage was demonstrated about this time, when at 10:58 P.M. a fire alarm was received from the Arlington Hotel. The Port Dickinson locating company responded, to find that a short circuit in a part of the hotel sprinkler system had activated the alarm.
Instead of returning to the fire station, the Port Dickinson firemen reported at the Washington street fire at Chief Thomas’s request, following which, Chenango Bridge firemen moved into the Chenango Street Station to stand by.
As the stubborn fire progressed, Hinman’s Corners fire fighters were asked to leave the headquarters station and join in the struggle at the fire. They were replaced by a company from the Binghamton State Hospital which maintains a well organized and equipped fire department. To pick up protection at the Hospital, Five-Mile Point volunteers moved into the Hospital fire station.
During the time Port Dickinson firemen were operating in Binghamton, their community was protected by the Hillcrest company and Hillcrest, in turn, was covered by the Port Crane Volunteer Fire Department.
Other fire companies in the county mutual aid program, were alerted and stood fast, waiting for instructions to respond to any part of the area.
Shortly after midnight the blaze was reported officially under control. Three companies remained throughout the night to prevent rekindle.
Thirteen large and several booster and high pressure hose lines were in operation during the course of the fire. An investigation into the origin of the mysterious blaze was instituted by Fire Marshal Gerald D. O’Loughlin. Twelve firemen were injured, none seriously.