FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING.
The long-expected has happened. New York has had its anticipated holocaust, burning and crushing to death at least one hundred and fifty men and women. The fire in the three top stories of a Washington place shirt waist factory where more than seven hundred persons were employed, on Saturday last, emphasizes several things, not the least of which is the absolute need of firstclass discipline in such extreme emergencies as this. Had fire drills been observed in the establishment of the Triangle Shirt Waist Company there is no question that most of these lives would have been saved. That the owner of the building had complied with the laws governing fireproof construction is admitted by Fire Commissioner Waldo and Chief Croker, but he had done no more. It was one of those cases which Chief Croker is accredited with saying that only one fire escape was provided for fear that more than that number would destroy the beauty of the building, and the officials had ‘no authority to cause the placing of more fire escapes. It appears to have been pretty definitely settled that the flames were started by a burning cigarette stub thrown into a collection of inflammable material. This points to another lack of discipline, as smoking should not be tolerated in such a place. It has been charged that the company, or firm, had made a practice of keeping the doors locked to prevent tardy employes from slipping in without detection, and to compel all to go out through one door, under scrutiny, to prevent petty thefts. How true this is will be ascertained after further investigation. One thing, however, seems to stand out very clearly—that the proprietors of nearly all such factories, in their eagerness to make money, place too small a value on human lives. As the greater portion of such employes are illiterate and devoid of good judgment, especially in periods of extreme excitement, panic and disorder must be expected. But this is only one disaster; it had been predicted by Chief Croker, who expects to see others of similar shocking character, as there are said to be seven thousand buildings similar to this illfated one, and twenty thousand more that are almost equally dangerous to human lives. Such calamities only serve to teach lessons; they do not compel practice.
Despite the efforts of the Illinois underwriters to facilitate the passage of the bill to give weight to the fire marshal law, no progress seems to be making on the part of the house committee having it in hand. This inertia creates the suspicion that certain members of the committee want to bury the measure for political purposes. In fact, it is openly charged that the neglect is actuated by a determination to deprive Governor Deneen of the dispensing of the patronage that will follow such a law. Considering the imperative need of the fire marshal’s office in Illinois, the committee’s attitude is looked upon as the worst kind of political chicanery. Anticipating the creation of the new office of State Fire Marshal, one-quarter of one per cent, has been collected from fire insurance premiums for the past two years and the sum so collected amounts at the present time to about $80,000 This money lies idle in the State Treasury solely because members of the Legislature refuse to act in the interest of the commonwealth. Meanwhile the fire waste goes on unchecked and incendiaries driven from adjacent States through the activity of conscientious fire marshals are said to be finding an excellent field for their nefarious practices in Illinois. Such misrepresentation by officials belies the very name of the State they pretend to serve. Tradition tells us that “Illinois” is a derivative of “Illini,” meaning “superior men,” but the conduct of the legislative committee concerning the fire marshal law seems to imply that the less euphoneous cognomen, “Sucker State,” is preferable.
Nobody has ever, to our knowledge, entertained the belief that conditions surrounding the moving picture theaters of this city approached a semblance of safety when viewed from the standpoint of fires. Now, after a thorough investigation of fifty of these amusement places in Manhattan by Commissioner of Accounts Raymond B. Fosdick, this public apprehension of danger proves to have been well founded. According to his report to the Mayor it is learned that the Commissioner found inadequate protection from fire or panic, poor sanitation and dangerous overcrowding. One proprietor is accredited with having declared that to comply strictly with the law would mean the elimination of one-half of those cheap amusement resorts. Most of them are conducted under what is called “common show” licenses, and are not large enough to come within the building code provivisions which govern the ordinary theater and consequently impose greater expense. It is noted, however, that while little advancement has been made toward reducing the fire hazard, the character of the pictures has been materially improved, which is largely due to the censorship over the films. Commissioner Fosdick say’s that it is possible that a comparative study of the conditions surrounding moving picture shows and other places of congregation, such as churches, department stores and manufactories, would demonstrate that the latter arc no more perfectly protected against fire fatalities than the former. It is recommended that a committee of fire officials be instructed to make a careful examination of all the moving picture shows in the city and that the licenses of places considered unsafe be revoked.
RELATED: From 1958: Lessons from a Second ‘Triangle’ | From 2013: Tazreen Fashions: Triangle Shirtwaist Revisited | From 2015: 24 Die in 1958 Loft Factory Fire | The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire: Too Small a Value on Human Lives | From 1977: Triangle Shirtwaist Toll Of 145 Is Still Largest For U.S. Industrial Fires
Indications point to an exceptionally sane Fourth of July this year. And this in reality is the direct result of agitation and publicity. For years sentiment against the use of fireworks and useless noise has been growing until now the public has come to see the propriety of its entire suppression. Last year the falling off of the fireworks business was a severe blow to the manufacturers of and dealers in combustibles, and the future promising no improvement or a restoration of former lucrative trade, the leading pyrotechnist of this country, the Pain Manufacturing Company, has retired from business. But while the revolution of public sentiment has thus wrought calamity to a few individuals, it has been of substantial benefit to the country at large. The time had conic when “The Spirit of Seventysix” was literally obscured on the Fourth of July by the Satanic desire to make noise and burn powder. Not one in a hundred young Americans could give an intelligent idea of what the day really commemorates. It is earnestly to be hoped, therefore, that the rejection of this insane, freakish manner of celebrating America’s Natal Day will continue to grow and spread and that the event may hereafter be observed with greater reverence (but with equal zeal) in a manner more in keeping with advanced education and inherent patriotism. The pageants that may be substituted in every city, including both military and civic bodies and children of the public schools, will do more to perpetuate patriotic zeal than the burning of a million tons of powder and the creation of bedlam, not to mention the reduction to a minimum of the services of hospital surgeons and nurses. But perhaps no greater benefit can accrue from the altered conditions than the obliteration of one of the greatest fire-loss causes, as statistics produced by the underwriters show that many hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of property are reduced to ashes on this annual holiday. The complete transformation from scenes of madhouse behavior, devilish caprice and destructive flames to the orderly observance of Fourth of July will, we believe, be appreciated even in this cosmopolitan city.
Should the bill introduced in the New Jersey Legislature last week by Assemblyman Balentine become a law, the factories in that State will be something else than fire traps. This contention, however, is made on the assumption that the law will be enforced. It not only says that fire escapes must be on all buildings at least two stories high, but specifies how the escapes shall be built, of what material, and generally safeguards factory employes. The measure also provides that there shall be a fire drill at least once in every month. It follows closely the Massachusetts and Pennsylvania laws, in that it gives the State Factory Inspector power to close factories if his orders are not obeyed. Buildings more than two stories high used for manufacturing purposes shall have at least two means of egress communicating with each story, one of w’hich shall be an inside stairway and the other an outside fire escape. The bill further says: “All installation of fire escapes or stairways shall be made with reference to the maximum number of persons to be employed upon each story of any building or separated subdivision thereof, statement of which number shall be posted by the owner upon the wall of each story or separated subdivision thereof, so as to be visible at all times. Under no circumstances shall this number, when once ascertained and installation of fire escapes and stairways be made with reference thereto, be exceeded except by permission of the commissioner. Factory buildings more than two stories in height shall be equipped with a system of fire alarm with sufficiently large gongs located on each floor of the factory building, or within each separate room where more than one factory is located on a single floor. The system shall be so installed as to permit the sounding of all the alarm gongs within a single building whenever the alarm is sounded in any one portion thereof. The means of sounding these alarms shall be placed within easy access of all the operatives within the specified factory or room, and shall be plainly labeled. This system of fire alarms is not to be used for any purpose other than in case of a fire or fire drill, and it shall be the duty of the person in charge of any factory or section of a factory wherein a fire originates immediately to cause an alarm to be sounded.”