Fire safety lessons of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire

This month, we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. On March 25, 1911, a preventable garment factory fire in New York killed 146 workers. The 100-year Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire anniversary is a reminder of hard lessons learned about a property owner’s fire safety obligations and the duty to keep one’s property free from dangerous conditions.

The Triangle fire was an entirely preventable tragedy, but simple precautions were not taken. At the time of the Triangle Factory fire, automatic sprinkler systems and firewalls were available, but laws did not exist to force factories to use them. According to historical National Fire Protection Association records, the only fire-fighting tools available on the Triangle factory floor that was filled with flammable clothing, fabric scraps and wooden furniture were ineffective buckets of water.

The Triangle factory’s owners, hoping to cut down on unscheduled employee breaks, purposely locked exit doors. During the fire, fire stairs were blocked by flames and the pathway to the roof, which allowed the owners to escape unharmed, was a secret kept from employees. With hundreds of workers locked helplessly above the 8th floor fire line and with rescue ladders too short to reach them, employees died in the flames or jumped to their deaths from windows.

Triangle employees’ families sought justice through the only available avenue – the court system. While the factory owners were acquitted of manslaughter and remained in business, victims’ relatives waited years for civil court results that compensated them $75 for each lost life.

Some of the first state fire laws were created immediately following the Triangle fire and many more stringent insurance and government safety regulations and programs have since been added. Strict building codes and proactive fire prevention measures have drastically reduced the chances of another Triangle Factory fire.

Even with the vast safety improvements made over the past 100 years, preventable fires continue to injure people in factories and apartments across New York State. If you or a loved one has been injured in a fire, it is important to work with an experienced personal injury attorney who knows how to undertake an extensive investigation into the fire and who knows how to protect your rights in court.

Source: CBS News, “Remembering The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire 100 Years Later, Part 2,” Jesse Zanger, 3/24/2011

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