Double Entry Journal
The Shirtwaist Triangle Fire by Harrison PowersQuote and Page Number / Connection: (This reminds me of…)
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It was 4:30 on a sunny Saturday afternoon. At the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, the workweek was almost over. Five hundred workers finished up their chores. Most of them were women and young girls. They made the blouses, called "shirtwaists," that the company sold.
The Triangle Company had the top three floors of a ten-story building. The building was one of New York's early "high-rises." Built of brick and stone, it was said to be fireproof. But inside, it was framed with wood. Bolts of cloth lined the walls. Piles of rags and tissue paper littered the work area. The sewing machines and the floors were soaked with oil.
Two narrow stairways led down to the street. The door to one was kept locked. A passageway only twenty inches wide led to the other. There was only one fire escape. And it stopped at the second floor.
The year before, the owners had been
warned. The building was a firetrap. But no changes were ever made. No fire doors were installed. No sprinklers were installed. The workers never even had a fire drill. On March 25, 1911, fate finally caught up with them.
A guard stood at the door to the stairway. His job was to check each woman's purse as she left. The owners were afraid the women might steal scraps of fabric. They were lined up, ready to file out. Then, a young woman ran to her boss. "There's a fire, Mr. Bernstein!"
It wasn't the first fire in the shop. There had been other small fires. The last one had been two weeks ago.
Now, the men sprang into action. But this time, the fire got away from them. They threw pails of water on it. But the water only seemed to spread the flames.
The manager called off his men. "You can't do anything here. Try to get the women out!"
Screams of "Fire!" filled the eighth floor. Workers jammed the narrow exit. Later, firemen found their bodies piled up at the door.
One woman tried to warn the others above. A teletype machine connected with the tenth floor. The fire raged around her. But she sat down and started typing. A clerk on the tenth floor took the message. "The place is on fire," it read. "Run for your lives."
They thought it was a joke. But within minutes, the fire came in through the windows.
On the ninth floor, they had no warning at all.
There were two freight elevators. The frantic workers crowded in. The elevator cars started down. One never made it. The people left behind jumped down the shaft. They landed on top of the car. More followed. They jammed the elevator so it wouldn't move. Afterwards, nineteen bodies were found wedged into the shaft.
On the street below, a crowd was gathering. At 4:45 p.m., the fire trucks had arrived. But there was little the firemen could do. Their ladders only reached as high as the fifth floor.
The women started jumping. They smashed the windows with their fists. The first woman climbed out on the ledge. Her hair, streaming down her back, was ablaze. She held out her arms, as if sleepwalking, and stepped off. From different windows, three more followed. In all, forty-six women jumped to their deaths. Some of them held hands in a group-jump.
Firemen held out their nets. But the force of the falling bodies was too great for them. Every net ripped to shreds.
Some workers on the tenth floor made it to the roof. Hundreds of others escapedas well. They were the lucky ones.
That evening, the charred remains of | many bodies were taken out. The victims were placed in coffins. The coffins were lined up—one hundred and forty-six.
The news spread. Thousands came looking for loved ones. They filed past coffins. Mothers found daughters. Sistersfound sisters. Husbands found wives. Their screams filled the night.
Seven bodies were never identified. They were too badly burned.
The next day, firemen picked throughthe rubble. They found fourteen engagement rings. Fourteen weddings never took place that spring.
All over New York City and all aroundthe country, too, sorrow at the tragic was followed by anger and outrage that it had been allowed to happen. The new garment workers' union now found publicopinion behind its fight to improve working conditions.
Fire laws, too, were strengthened. Buildings were to have enough fire exits.Regular inspections made sure thatexits were kept free and the fire extinguishers were working. Materials that might catchfire were no longer allowed to pile up inaisles. Fire drills became part of the routine. Not all fires can be prevented, but everything has been done to makesure there will never be another disasterlike the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.