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|Last Updated: Monday, November 05, 2012|
100th Anniversary of New York's Triangle Shirtwaist Fire
March 25, 2011
One hundred years ago today, New York City suffered one of its most devastating losses. A fire at the Triangle Waist Company claimed the lives of 146 workers.
"While this event did lead labor to rise up and demand safer working conditions, we cannot forget the 146 who perished that day," says IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger. "No matter how much time passes, we must always remember that those lives were lost due to unsafe working conditions. As union members, we should always keep a watchful eye on workplace practices so the future tragedies can be prevented."
Just before close of business March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the eighth floor of the building. However, tragically illustrating that fire inspections and precautions were woefully in adequate at the time, the doors to the fire escape were locked, trapping many workers on the upper levels of the buildings.
Out of desperation, many of the workers tried to push the locked door open while others waited by windows for fire fighters to come to their rescue. Others chose to jump to their deaths rather than risk being burned alive.
The first responding unit, Engine Company 72, arrived to find that six people had already jumped. Fire fighters hurried to put up a life net for other jumpers while, simultaneously, trying to get the engine into position. Disturbingly, the water from their homes would only reach as far as the seventh floor.
After the fire, workers gravitated toward unions to support mobilization and demand that the Triangle Waist Company owners be brought to trial. The role that strong unions could have in helping prevent such tragedies became clear.
When workers brought to light that the fire escape doors were locked at the time of the fire, the District Attorney's office sought an indictment against the owners. Subsequently, a grand jury indicted the company's two owners on seven counts, charging them with manslaughter in the second degree under section 80 of the Labor Code, which mandated that doors should not be locked during working hours.
The New York legislature, appalled by the event, created a commission headed by Senator Robert F. Wagoner, Alfred E. Smith, and Samuel Gompers to investigate conditions in the City's sweatshops. This resulted in the present labor laws protecting factory workers in health, disability and fire prevention. The division of fire prevention was also created as part of the fire department. Their function is to rid factories of fire hazards. Among other restrictions, all doors must now open outwards, no doors are to be locked during working hours, sprinkler systems must be installed if a company employs more than 25 people above the ground floor, and fire drills are mandatory for buildings lacking sprinkler systems.
Republished with permission of the International Association of Fire Fighters. View original article here.
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