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Plaque installed to honor 1942 explosion victims

Messenger Post Media
Monroe County Post

A recently installed plaque on Whitney Road in the town of Perinton honors the 12 people lost in the Rochester Fireworks Co. fire of 1942. 

The Rochester Fireworks Co., located near the corner of Baird and Whitney roads, produced war products such as signal kits during World War II. On Nov. 6, 1942, an accident in the factory caused a fire and 12 people died. It was the region’s only major disaster during WWII. 

Photos of the 1942 fire, captured by Richard Steubing.

“Over the course of our nation’s history, we’ve seen many war-related tragedies; however, very few have been as close to home as the Rochester Fireworks Co. fire in Perinton,” Town Supervisor Ciaran Hanna said. “Our own Perinton, Fairport and East Rochester residents were among those who stepped up to help manufacture war products in WWII. Tragically, 12 of them died, 11 of them women helping out the war effort at home, our community’s own ‘Rosie the Riveters.’” 

Hanna joined members of the Town Board, East Rochester Mayor John Alfieri, Town Historian Bill Poray, Fairport Mayor Julie Domaratz and County Legislator John Baynes, D-18th District, for the installation ceremony. 

“It is an honor to join our community to install a plaque that will forever stand in memory of those who died in the tragedy,” Hanna said. “It will also stand as an enduring symbol of the immeasurable sacrifices of so many in defense of our freedom here at home.” 

A plaque installed on the site of the Rochester Fireworks Co. commemorates the 12 workers lost in the 1942 fire and explosion.

On Nov. 6, 1942, a “puff” of smoke at the factory was noticed by a neighbor on Whitney Road. The explosion and fire that ensued would take the lives of 12 Fairport and East Rochester residents who were among the civilian support for WWII. Eleven victims were women, as more women entered the workforce, especially in manufacturing, with the rise of munitions-making jobs. 

The Rochester Fireworks Co. expanded its workforce during WWII to make war products such as signal kits for the Army and Navy. The company received a commendation from Rear Adm. G.F. Hussey, U.S. Navy chief, in 1944 after the kits made in the Perinton factory helped rescue two pilots forced to escape danger by parachute. 

“Something truly important in our nation’s history happened here in Perinton,” Poray said. “Twelve residents gave their lives in service to their country. They are American heroes. Factories all across America were turned over to the war effort during WWII. So many of our residents don’t know that happened here in Perinton, but now they will. This historic marker helps to tell the story, and shows our respect and appreciation for those who lost their lives.”

Killed in the fire were Bertha Archambo, 53; Evelyn M. Bigelow, 26; Minnie Brotsch, 56; Viola Close, 60; Rose Costanzo, 42; Yolanda Covino, 29; Freda Cox, 37; Evelyn Ellis, 48; Angeline Mandell, 31; Angeline Morabito, 33; Mary Parsons, 48; and Fred Steeley, 26. 

Family members of the victims, including the Morabito family, also attended the ceremony.

Local officials attend an installation ceremony for a plaque honoring the 12 victims of the 1942 Rochester Fireworks Co. explosion.