Imagine working in a place where the doors remain locked, fire escapes were in ill repair, and there were no sprinklers. Imagine you work many hours a week and your employer pays you what he wants, not what you deserve. Imagine coming to a foreign land where very few people spoke your language and you did not speak theirs.
Welcome to the American sweatshop at the turn of the century, where immigrants from foreign countries would come to earn a living and would be at the mercy of the bosses from hell, who really only cared about the bottom line. These bosses cut corners every way they could and did not care about their employees or their safety by any stretch of the imagination.
Yes, there were skyscrapers back then but they were not as tall as the ones we know today such as the sears tower or the twin towers, which are forever gone. Buildings with as many as ten floors were commonplace in those days, but most of the time the elevators if they had them worked only part of the time. The staircases some times only went to another floor and some buildings had staircases, which went from top to bottom with doors only every so many floors.
Fire escapes were not in good repair either and most of the times these escape routes were never inspected after they were installed. In some sweatshops, doors were locked to keep workers from leaving early, before the work was done according to the bosses. Sprinklers were around during this time but were very expensive so they were not installed in many buildings.
It is a wonder there was not many more of these mad made disasters occurring back then. Safety and labor laws were just very different back then than they are today. It is a shame that so many of these immigrants came here to escape poverty and met death instead but that is precisely what happened at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York City on March 25, 1911.
Back then, wages were notorious for being low, two men Isaac Harris and Max Blanck ran this building but they hired sub contactors who hired mostly immigrant women to work into heir factory.
This sweatshop hired many immigrants who spoke little or no English so that they could work them as hard as they wanted too. Cigarettes were smoked inside the building with little thought to where they were disposed of and this was a fatal mistake for so many people that day. It is believed that a cigarette carelessly discarded into a pile of scraps from the sewing machines is what began the biggest fire of the time in this building on the eighth floor.
If there were a spot, where the employees could smoke then things would have been different. Back in those days, the employees had to remain steps away from their machines or they would be fired. This is why there are designated places for us to smoke these days and it is outside for the safety of everyone.
It is unknown how long the cigarette butt was smoldering within the ton or so of scraps of material on the floor but when someone yelled fire most of the people could not understand that simple word. These immigrants did not speak English, so they did not understand why smoking prohibited and most never heard the cries of fire until it was too late to do anything.
We all know that material can smolder quite a bit before it erupts into a flame and we know that what ever is under the pile is already burning because there is no oxygen down there.
That is just what happened back then because the building codes required only buildings that were 150 feet to have concrete floors and since this building was only 135 feet it had wooden floors. The unthinkable was happening the floors were burning under the feet of the workers as they tried to escape.
On the eighth floor they ran for doors, which they found locked. They ran for the fire escapes, which collapsed under the weight of them. They ran for the elevators that crashed down when to much weight was added to them at one time.
Smoke rises and so does flames and it burned through the ninth floor and that added to the confusion of the eighth floor. Then the fire continued right on up to the tenth floor, it destroyed all within its path.
With little hope of their survival, some the people began jumping out the windows to their deaths. Many bodies hit the sidewalk that day because it seemed to be a better alternative then burning to death. However, those fortunate enough to reach the roof of the building were led to safety by a professor and his students who laid ladders from the building next door.
The fire began at 4:40 pm and by 5:05 pm, it was under control and in another 10 minutes, it was considered to be all out. It is within these 35 minutes that most of the 146 people died. A few more died in the following days because of their injuries caused directly by the fire. They died because of the lack of knowledge about how building codes should be. Their deaths made things better for us all it is sad but true.
Had the safety codes we have now, been around back then these people might not have died that day. It is a shame that those unfortunate souls were lost that day. However, it is through their deaths that many laws ware now in place for the good of us all.
Now sprinklers and fire alarms are mandatory in every building along with fire extinguishers. We have fire drills at most places of employment so the employees know what to do out of habit so it is second nature to us. Fire escapes are inspected every year, and there are emergency exits in every commercial building.
There are concrete floors in all commercial buildings, and wood is used little in construction except for residential places. Every stairway has doors that open on every floor and in bigger buildings, there are two stair cases one at either end of the building. Elevators are not used during a fire and there are plenty of fire doors in commercial buildings such as hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. There are plenty of escape routes should a fire break out.
Smoking is to be in designated areas only in most places, and many states like New York ban any smoking within buildings. This maybe an inconvenience to some but it is for the safety of everyone who uses that building.
In 2001 Rose Freedman, the last survivor of the Triangle Fire, died at age 107. She had worked her entire lifetime to improve the safety of every worker. Thanks Rose may you soar upon high effortlessly for the unselfishness you have shown for the safety of us all.