Triangle Shirtwaist Fire – New York City, NY

triangle shirtwaist fireThe Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City had resulted in 146 deaths. This fire is the largest life loss industrial fire in American History. The fire had occurred in a ten-story loft style building and had approximately 500 employees. Each floor was 10,000 square feet open style rooms.

The fire started at the end of the women’s shift on the eighth floor in a rag bin. The fire started from a cigarette or match tossed in the bin, like many other types of fires.. When the fire had begun, workers had tried to extinguish it with a fire hose but there was no water. The smoke traveled rapidly through the stairwell. The women tried to rush out of the fire escape doors but they were bolted shut. The only escape routes that were left were the elevator and metal fire escape.

fire memorial triangle shirtThe firefighters came to the scene and took a total of 30 minutes to put out the fire. The ladders were 30 feet short of the eighth floor so the women were forced to jump if they were not rescued. The fire could have significantly been suppressed if automatic sprinklers had been installed in the shirtwaist factory. The need for better fire escapes is certainly necessary in this incident.  

triangle fire grave memorialThe Triangle Shirtwaist Factory employed a lot of workers that were primarily young women. To prevent these workers from taking unauthorized breaks, so in an effort to do so, that was the reason for the locked doors. This was one of the major factors that prevented people from escaping once the fire began. It is one thing for the reason being that the fire started, it’s another for people not being able to have escaped. The only person who had the keys to open the doors had already escaped and left many others to perish. Many victims were thrown out of the building and others jumped to their deaths to the ground below.

Following this event, a Committee on Public Safety was formed, and the New York Fire Chief got involved with the city to help identify other factories that had nearly the same conditions of the Triangle Shirt Fire to prevent something as horrible from happening again. This terrible circumstance started the process of labor reforms and new fire safety laws to be created. The American Society of Safety Engineers was also formed in 1911.

Having a fire escape but having it bolted shut is pointless. Safety for the women was not a big concern for the wealthy owners. Training for escape routes could have better helped the situation as well as following the occupancy numbers in each room. More fire extinguishers and the working water hose could of extinguished the fire from the beginning. There were few positives that came from this tragic event. The National Fire Protection Association code requirements for the workplace, particularly exiting provisions, changed substantially as a result of this fire. This fire was a pivotal event in US history. Over 30 labor related laws were established after the fire. One of the laws included requiring automatic sprinklers in high-risk buildings and mandatory fire drills in large shops. Workplace doors were require to be kept unlocked and swing outward for quick exit in an emergency.

Fire safety measures are always improving. It seems that it takes tragic events to spring new laws and regulations into action. My goal as a fire science major is to help identify potential fire hazards to protect other people in the future.