Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

volunteer firefighters in ColoradoThe Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911 began as 275 workers started to collect their belongings leaving work on a Saturday. Stairwells were locked and exit doors opened inward, effectively locking the workers in the burning building. The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, who died from the fire, smoke inhalation, or falling (or jumping) to their deaths. Most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women aged sixteen to twenty-three but the youngest were two fourteen-year-old girls.

This fire was a horrible event, made more horrible by the workers desperation to get out of the building. The ladders from the fire trucks only reached to the seventh floor of the ten-story building, and the factory occupied floors 8, 9, and 10.  When the girls on these upper floors realized they couldn’t escape, and the firefighters couldn’t reach them, they began jumping from the windows to the pavement below. People trying to help could only watch in horror as the scene unfolded in front of them.

The company’s owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, who survived the fire by fleeing to the building’s roof when the fire began, where charged with manslaughter but were not convicted. However, they lost a subsequent civil suit in 1913 in which plaintiffs won compensation in the amount of $75 per deceased victim. The insurance company paid Blanck and Harris about $400 per death. One reason the owners were acquitted is because no regulations were violated – there were none in existence to protect the workers. The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers.


~ ~ If you haven’t gotten your 2012 Firefighter Calendar yet, it’s not too late! You can purchase them at The Big Chili. 100% of the proceeds from every calendar sold through the end of the year goes to our local fire departments.


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