Around 9 a.m. last Tuesday, Drew Furlong, a junior defender on the Binghamton University men’s lacrosse team, headed to his teammates’ house down the street. Nearly a third of the team’s players lived at 74 Front St., and he was set to meet with two of them to prepare a class presentation for later that day.
Furlong was walking with crutches while recovering from a recent foot surgery. Upon opening the door to the old building, he was greeted with an entryway filled with black smoke and the sounds of a fire alarm.
Upon further investigation, he saw a sofa engulfed in flames in the living room. Furlong rushed across the room to alert the person in the nearest bedroom, and he found it empty. When he looked back, he realized the severity of the situation.
“I turned around and the whole living room was basically in flames at that point,” Furlong said. “I rushed through the living room, I just picked up my crutches and I ran. That was the first time I had put pressure on my foot since my surgery, but I just picked up my crutches and I ran across the living room.”
In the short period of time since Furlong had entered the house, the fire had spread rapidly throughout the ill-fated structure.
“When I got there, it was just the sofa that was on fire,” Furlong said. “It went from the sofa to basically half of the living room in about 30 seconds. I also knew that the whole house was made of wood — it’s a very old house — so I knew that there was no chance we were putting out this fire. We had to get everyone out as soon as possible. I just started making sure that everyone could hear me and banging out the doors with my crutches and just making sure everyone was able to get out.”
Furlong was able to get the attention of someone who lived on the first floor. At the same time, one of his teammates he was supposed to work on the presentation with came down the stairs and noticed the situation. Both of them ran up the steps to help evacuate the house.
“I’m very thankful that [they] were able to see me and see the fire because they were able to rush upstairs and get everyone out, because it would have been hard for me,” Furlong said. “About a minute later, everyone was out of there. The whole house was on fire at that point, so everybody was running through black smoke. You couldn’t really see or breathe at all. We got out and about a minute after that the house was completely inflamed.”
Fifteen BU students lived in the house — 14 of whom are members of the Division I men’s lacrosse team. They lost everything they couldn’t carry, but there were no injuries reported. All of the residents escaped just in time, thanks in great part to Furlong’s efforts.
“People like to lay the hero label on me, but I can tell you right now that I’m nothing like a hero at all,” Furlong said. “I just was at the right situation at the right time. I’m just extremely thankful for fate allowing me to be in that situation. If you put anyone else on the team in that situation, they would have definitely been able to do the same thing and get guys out and spread the word to make sure that everyone was safe.”
As Furlong was frantically pacing the first floor, his teammate, sophomore midfielder Thomas Greenblatt, was one of several student-athletes lying in bed on that Tuesday morning. Including Greenblatt, the team’s entire sophomore class resided at the home.
“I was sleeping in my room,” Greenblatt said. “Sometimes it gets a little loud in the morning, people waking up and making breakfast, so I kind of heard some loud noises, people running up the stairs like your average day. I heard it, but it didn’t really register … Then I started to hear ‘fire’ screams. My door got pounded on, I opened up my door and I looked to my left which is where the staircase was, and there was just this thick black smoke.”
Greenblatt grabbed his phone and laptop and fled the burning building along with his teammates.
“I went down the stairs and I couldn’t see a thing,” Greenblatt said. “The only way I got out of the house was because I knew where the door was. It was pretty bad at that point, but I never really saw the fire.”
After escaping the house, Greenblatt called the fire department. They arrived within minutes, but the damage was done. City officials deemed the building a “total loss” and it was demolished later that day.
“Our coaches were there, our [athletic director] came down … there were a bunch of people there to help us,” Greenblatt said. “But just sitting there watching all your stuff on fire is definitely a little traumatizing. Just the fact that everybody made it out safely was the most important thing. It was definitely an upsetting thing to see, but we’re very grateful that nobody came out injured at all.”
Binghamton Fire Department officials announced the next day that the fire had been caused by an electric heater igniting the couch. Nearly all of the residents’ belongings were lost, including much of the players’ lacrosse equipment.
“That day, guys were running around with no shoes on, they really had nothing but whatever they brought with them outside of the house,” Furlong said. “As guys on the team, we tried to do everything that we could, in terms of just letting guys come up to my closet and take anything they want, because really what’s mine is theirs. Guys were giving shoes or sneakers, really just everything.”
The displaced student-athletes spent that night in a hotel and ultimately relocated to apartments at University Lofts for the remainder of the academic year. The men’s lacrosse team returned to practice two days later and played its regular season finale on Sunday.
“It’s really nice to see everyone, all of the guys on the team, coming together and just being very selfless and vulnerable and giving everything they had to those guys,” Furlong said. “I think that’s what Binghamton lacrosse is all about. When it comes down to stepping away from the field and stepping away from lacrosse, who we are as people and how we support one another.”
Nicole Marks Kaufman contributed reporting to this article.