Triangle Shirtwaist Factory

In the time of rapid technological progress, fire safety is very important. Electronics and various household appliances are filling almost every office, living room, or warehouse. Therefore, since all these elements are potentially flammable, the mandatory presence of the fire equipment is a necessity in any room, and not just a blind attempt to follow the letter of the law on fire safety.

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Fire Fighting Equipment is perceived as a comprehensive list of devices and components, from simple household fire extinguishers to special equipment. The basic task of firefighting equipment is to minimize the effects of fire. Ideally, with the firefighting equipment, fire should be extinguished before the arrival of the fire brigade. That is the reason why the most important role is put on the competent accommodation, quality and performance of the fire equipment. Firefighting equipment must be present in absolutely every room, regardless of its size and purpose. Fire extinguisher is highly effective in the first few minutes of a fire. Fire extinguishers are available in three classes. Each modification of fire extinguisher is used depending on the class of fire and floor space.

Firefighting equipment is not the only thing that can help in extinguishing the fire. Optimum efficiency is achieved by the implementation of a comprehensive approach to the issue of fire protection. In addition to the mandatory fire extinguishers, it is highly desirable to equip the room with the smoke exhaust system, auxiliary supplies and respiratory PPE, as well as monitoring systems. All firefighting equipment shall be provided with a certificate that confirms the quality and efficiency of the equipment. In case of lack of certificates, the use of firefighting equipment is prohibited, regardless of its effectiveness or innovation.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which occurred in New York, is till nowadays considered as one of the most significant and saddest events in American history. This accident took place in March, 1911 and swept lives of more than 146 factory workers; this is surely a very high loss of human life loss or damage due to an industrial accident. Sewing Factory “Triangle» (Triangle Shirtwaist Factory) occupied 8th, 9th and 10th floors of the Asch Building (now the Brown Building of Science in the New York University), in Manhattan, New York, USA (Drehle, 2004). The company belonged to Max Blank and Ayse Harris. Factory produced women’s blouses (shirtwaist), employing about five hundred people, most of whom were young immigrants (Jewish and Irish 16-23 years old), who worked till 9:00 p.m. on weekdays and till 7:00 p.m. on Saturdays. The fire at the factory dramatically increased interest in fire safety measures taken in the country, especially with regard to building standards, design requirements and supervision of compliance with safety regulations. Desire to succeed in domestic and exports markets should not lead to a compromise of basic fire safety in the workplace. Operator is required to provide fire protection work at the appropriate level, regardless of where the enterprise is located.

Indeed, this fire was one of the biggest manufacturing disasters in the city of New York, and the real tragedy of the American people. What happened on that fateful day, March 25, 1911, for real?

It was an ordinary Saturday night, approaching the end of the day, when fire broke out at the eighth floor of the Asch-Building. The eighth, ninth and tenth floors of this building were occupied by sewing factory of “Triangle”, which produced ten to twelve thousand shirts and blouses weekly. This outstanding performance, unfortunately, was not due to the presence of good equipment in the factory and the huge size of the factory, and rather was the result of using cheap labor. The factory employed about 500 people. Most of the workers were young immigrants (mostly Jewish and Italian), aged 16 – 23 years old, who worked for 13 hours a day, six days per week, for 13 cents an hour. Many of them did not even speak English.

The fire started on the eighth floor of the building on Saturday night. Almost all exits out of the building were blocked, although some people were in the building (including business owners). However, some people have been able to get on the roof, and some managed to go down by the elevator. Joseph Zito and Gaspar Mortillalo returned to rescue workers. However, the attempt failed because people who rushed to the roof and opened the elevator door, ended jumping down the shaft. Many people jumped out of windows, so 62 people were killed. Other workers could not escape from a burning building.

The fire brigade arrived quickly, but putting the fire out proved difficult due to the high elevation of place of burning. The total death toll, according to current data, was 146 people; 30 of them were males. Surviving owners of the enterprise were charged for having the factory doors locked. In 1913, the court ordered to pay the victims’ families $ 75 compensation (for comparison, the insurance company paid the owners $ 60,000, which gives $ 400 divided by the number of deaths).

Determining the reason of the fire was very difficult, because the department, in which a fire started, was entirely destroyed; moreover, the surviving witnesses gave contradictory information. Since the fire started near a large electrical panel, investigators, at first thought that electricity problems were the cause of the fire. Investigators did not rule out arson either. However, at present, the authorities are inclined to believe that the source of ignition could be carelessly tossed cigarette.

Many sources make a comparison of Triangle fire to the one at the Kader factory as this helps to find the true reason of the fire. Buildings have common design features. Placement of exits was wrong; fixed firefighting systems were not powerful enough or even useless; moreover, the business premises stored a large amount of flammable material, and the construction of the building did not have vertical and horizontal for separation of the flame. In addition, neither of the companies did conduct an adequate safety training for workers, for case of fire. However, there is one major difference: the Triangle Shirtwaist building withstood whereas Kader buildings collapsed.

Wrong location output was perhaps the most significant factor in the loss of life in both fires. If the factory Kader had met the requirements of NFPA 101, the Life Safety Code, which was adopted as a result of a fire at Triangle, such serious loss of life could have been avoided.

Some of the basic requirements of Life Safety Code are directly related to a fire at the Triangle factory. For example, Code requires that any building or structure should be built, equipped, and operated so as to enable people in the building escape, in case of slightest danger of fire, smoke, toxic fumes, or panic that may occur during the evacuation, as well as protect people on the ground. The Code also states that every building must have a sufficient number of exits and other lifesaving appliances based on their size, and they should be arranged so as to provide everyone the opportunity to escape from the building. These outputs must be tailored to the individual characteristics of buildings, taking into account the nature of production, abilities of employees, number of employees, available means of protection against fire, height and features of construction of the building, and any other factors that are necessary to ensure that all employees are provided with sufficient safety. However, as we know, the factory had the opposite features: the fire blocked the stairs, and nearly 1,100 people have been forced to make their way down from the upper floors through the available exits.

In addition, the outputs must be located and built to provide unimpeded access from any part of the building. All exits must be clearly visible, and the path to each of the exits must be marked clearly, so that anyone could find the way to it. The sad outcome of the two fires is heavily influenced by the lack of separation of horizontal and vertical flame. Both factories were built in such a way that the fire from the ground floor could easily spill over the top, cutting off the way to exit. Wide, spacious work area are typical of industrial enterprises, so the floors and walls must be designed and installed with the possibility of a fire protection, so as to hinder the spread of fire. It is also necessary to prevent fire spread to the outer wall of the building from the windows of one floor to the windows of another, as happened during the fire at Triangle.

The exact cause behind the fire is still unknown, but many historians believe that the fire was the result of unquenched cigarette or match thrown in the trash with scraps of fabric and patterns. It is obvious that a huge amount of flammable material such as cotton, has led to an instantaneous spread of fire. Therefore, after half an hour as the flames enveloped the ninth and tenth floors. All workers panicked and rushed to the door, but found it blocked.

There were several ways to get out on the street: the stairs, elevator or through the fire escape. Stair exits almost immediately were filled with fire and smoke. The ninth floor had the exit door to the stairs locked. Other doors were locked, in order to prevent theft, and every evening at the exit of the building workers carefully checked bags. In general, the factory owners permanently locked doors, so workers could not leave early from work and thus stayed working at sewing machines. The only fire exit from the building had collapsed, when about 20 people tried to use it. However, lifters Joseph Zito and Gaspar Mortillalo emerged as the real heroes risking their lives, since they returned several times for rescue people out of the flames. People in panic rushed to the roof of the car, which could not bear all the weight, and could not rise again.

Many people had to face a difficult choice, whether to burn alive or jump out of the fire. Passers-by watched in horror as 62 men one by one jumped out of the windows of the eighth, ninth and tenth floors of the Asch-Building.

Fire brigades arrived quickly to extinguish the fire, but it was not easy: first, it was not easy to come close to the building because many corpses blocked the pavement, and secondly; the length of the fire ladders were sufficient to the sixth floor only. Firefighters stretched nylon mesh to catch the jumping people, but the workers were so scared that the three or more people jumped into the same grid. From the excessive load, mesh exploded thus leading to human deaths.

In fifteen minutes, 146 people were killed. Factory owners Isaac Harris and Max Blank, immigrants from Russia of some 20 years ago, left the burning building as soon as they learned about the fire, without bothering about the evacuation of workers. They fled to the roof rather than to open the locked door, giving employees the opportunity to escape. Subsequently, they were charged with manslaughter. They were also charged with allegations that the factory doors were closed, and they were ordered to pay the families $ 75 of compensation. The insurance company compensated the owners of the factory with a sum of $ 60,000, in which case it was clear that $ 75 payment per person was not a problem to pay. In 1913, Max Blank was accused again that he closed the door in the factory in the course of working hours. This time, he was fined with $ 20 penalty only.

Indignation of the people of this situation prompted the government to take action. In the next three years more than 36 laws and regulations were passed in terms of governing fire safety and working conditions. After the fire, State Investigation Committee for factories was set in New York (New York State Factory Investigating Committee). The purpose of the Committe it is to check the working conditions in factories, in New York and other cities, as well as take immediate action to prevent any risk to life or deaths resulting from fire, unsanitary conditions or diseases. Thus, the New York labor law has become one of the most advanced in the world.

Moreover, in 1911, American Society of Safety Engineers was created, which was the first in the world to take care of the public safety, in the workplace. Unions became active in the struggle for the rights of workers. The most active and influential trade union developed into Transnational Couturier (The International Ladies ‘Garment Workers’ Union), whereby thousands of members took part in the funeral procession in memory of the victims of this terrible fire). In New York City Committee was established to investigate the factories to check and take preventive measures, so as to avoid fires and epidemics. Also, in 1911, the American Society of Safety Engineers was created, and it became the first organization in the world to care for public safety in the workplace.

Till nowadays the sidewalk at the corner of Green Street and Washington Place in Greenwich Village has a lot of flowers. Exactly a hundred years ago, there was a tragedy, which is still remembered and is associated with a splash of the trade union movement in America.

Within 18 minutes, killing 146 of the 600 factory workers – mostly young women and girls from families of Jewish and Italian immigrants, who earned $ 15 per 84-hour work week, do not assume the weekend. Of the four elevators in the building, only one was working, which could hold 12 people and had time to make four trips only. Fire Escape broke under the weight of escaping people. The doors to the building were locked from the outside, so workers could not run out of a smoke. Aerial ladder fire trucks did not reach the eighth floor, to the flames. Water from hydrants did not seek to the desired height either. 49 workers died in the fire or suffocated in the smoke. 36 died in the elevator shaft, where they jumped, in the hope to get out of the fire. 58 died by jumping out of the windows into the street. Some made a fatal move, while holding hands.

Unions held a demonstration calling to introduce safety measures in the workplace. The demonstration was attended by 80,000 New Yorkers. Factory owners were sued, but the court failed to recognize them guilty of the death of the people. By decision of the civil proceedings, owners re-paid the families $ 75. However, the owners have been compensated for the insurance at the rate of $ 400 for each victim.

Among the witnesses of the tragedy was Frances Perkins – Executive Secretary of the National Consumers League, which began lobbying campaign for mandatory compliance with fire safety measures in the workplace. She went into the commission that investigated the causes of the tragedy, which has made recommendations on safety and working conditions, including child labor. In the burned clothing shops, people worked from the age of 13.

A decade later, New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Frances Perkins, the head of the Industrial Department, as president, gave her the post of Minister of Labor. Perkins became the first American female minister. Perkins said the words: «New Deal» (- was the name of the political course of the administration of FDR) began with a fire at a garment factory Triangle».

In most countries, there are certain rules that will help prevent life-threatening situations in the workplace. In the United States, issues related to the safety of workers and their health, are described in Law on Safety and Health (Occupational Safety and Health Administration OSHA).

Since the adoption of the law in 1971, the number of accidents has decreased by half, and the number of work-related injuries and illnesses associated with a certain form of work has been reduced by 40 percent. These figures are especially impressive when one considers that the number of jobs almost doubled in the United States, thus, jobs have now risen to the number of workers up to 105 million, and the number of jobs is 6, 9 million.

OSHA organization is responsible for protecting workers and law enforcement of the United States. Technically, this organization is not directly responsible for the rules of construction of buildings or permits for certain types of construction. OSHA inspectors have sufficient authority to impose severe fines and even close some jobs if they are not safe. Everyone who is working on something or is responsible for the workplace or office equipment should be familiar with the rules and requirements of the Authority in accordance with the law OSHA. It provides detailed information on how to influence human health issues, certain substances and how to protect human life. This document shows, what materials are hazardous to health, how to use them safely. Furthermore, document provides guidelines as to what to expect in the case, where the guidelines for working with hazardous materials are not met, what to do in case of an accident, how to recognize the symptoms of exposure to hazardous substances and materials, as well as information that must be taken into consideration, in order to avoid accidents.

It is believed that technical standards for technology companies, “CBS-and-Bi” (Seyfti Systems) developed and published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) could help prevent the fire, or at least minimize the losses. NFPA 68 applies to the withdrawal deflagration while NFPA 69 applies to all other systems to prevent explosions. Department of Labor Federal Agency for Safety and Health of the United States (OSHA) has created a “national regulatory standard on accounting for risk of combustible dust” in the United States. “National Program for assessing the problem of combustible dust” (NEP); CPL 03-00-006 document from the Office of Programme Support describes the principles and procedures for inspection of businesses, where there is the issue of combustible dust, as well as expectations about the following safety standards for the U.S. owner / operators of the enterprises. Scope of the program is within the sphere of influence of the agency OSHA, and its execution is controlled by national, regional and provincial offices.

This case of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire resulted in a number of additional safety training. However, other issues as the main factor contributing to the severe loss of life in the factories are the lack of safety training, as well as too rigid system of protection. Survivors of the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory reported that fire drills and safety training were minimal, although the guards passed the initial training. At the Triangle Shirtwaist, there was no evacuation plan, though the training was conducted. Numerous complaints were filed by the factory workers after the fire. Workers also said that they were detained by security measures. In any case, the lack of a clear plan for evacuation in the factory played a role in the deaths. Chapter 31 Life Safety Code addresses the need to fire drills and training for evacuation.

The outcome of investigation was the lack of stationary automated fire protection systems. None of the buildings had automatic sprinklers, although there was still fire alarm. In accordance with the Life Safety Code, fire alarm necessarily must be installed in buildings, size, device, or method of operation, so as to allow their people to see the fire. Unfortunately, the fire alarm system, installed in the housing 1 did not work, so the evacuation of workers started too late. In the housing 2 and 3, where an alarm system was installed, as expected, all the workers were alive.

Manufacturing, installation and maintenance of fire alarm systems shall comply with such documents as NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm Code. Fabrication and installation of sprinkler systems shall comply with such documents as NFPA 13, Installation of Sprinkler Systems, their service – NFPA 25, Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Protection Systems.

Fires cause significant economic damage and are sometimes accompanied by severe consequences. Therefore, the protection from fire of the national economy and personal property is the most important duty of every member of society and is conducted on a national scale.

Fire Safety, in accordance with the technical standards, characterizes a state facility, where the normative likely to be possible the emergence and development of fire, human exposure to hazards and to protect wealth from destruction by fire. Thus, the organization of fire safety aims to find the most efficient, cost-effective and technically feasible ways and means of preventing fires, reducing damage from them and eliminating them in the most rational use of forces and means of quenching.

Fire safety should provide implementations of two interrelated systems: fire prevention and fire protection. Fire prevention system is a complex organizational and technical means, aimed at eliminating the conditions of fire. These activities include fire prevention system, for example, measures to prevent the formation of a combustible environment and the appearance in it of ignition sources. These activities are applied to the construction industry activities and facilities that make up the system to prevent a fire.

Fire protection system is a set of organizational and technical means to prevent the possibility of human exposure against hazards of fire and limit damage from it. The system of fire protection include: technological measures (e.g., reduction of combustible materials, combustible insulation protection, etc.), building solutions (design and space-planning: planning facility, provision of fire resistance of buildings and the safe evacuation of people, preventing the spread of fire, etc.). Moreover, fire protection system comprises of hardware (fire water supply, primary fire fighting, automatic controls for the prevention, detection and suppression of fires, mobile equipment for firefighting) and the organization of fire protection.

Labor protection is organically connected with the fire safety measures as to prevent the development and spread of fires and explosions; both activities are aimed at preventing accidents. In some cases, labor protection measures and fire safety are closely intertwined, so that it is difficult to distinguish them from one another. Only the content of these disciplines and methods for solving certain problems allow for a more or less clear distinction between them.

Issues of fire safety have always been under great attention. However, as a rule, these issues are seriously implemented in manufacturing plants and organizations, where there is a service or safety department, which is entrusted with tasks and maintenance of fire safety and conduct of a set of preventive measures. Small organizations and businesses, which can be related to the field of office work, have fire safety limited to the fire alarm and a few fire extinguishers. Meanwhile, a fire hazard exists almost everywhere, including in such small organizations. Risk factors may be any electrical or electronic equipment, household appliances, computer equipment, as well as electricity, especially if it is used relatively long time.

In organizations of any size and specialty, it is appropriate and necessary to minimize firefighter training in specialized courses, which can be conducted by specialized agencies working within the framework of protection of labor and fire safety.

However, in any case, a company or an organization should designate a staff member, who is charged with the additional authority, so as to maintain standards of fire safety and training, or hire a new employee, who is dedicated to performing these tasks only. His duties should also include conducting briefings scheduled at regular intervals, such as once a year. These briefings should explain precaution measures designed to prevent fire situations and actions of people in the event of fire hazardous situation. It is desirable that the structure that holds such courses should generate a document upon completion of the courses. In this case, the regulatory authorities, monitoring the observance of fire safety rules should have no issues in the competence of a person responsible for compliance.

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