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FDNY Remembers the 101st Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

FDNY members at the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire remembrance ceremony in Manhattan.

FDNY members at the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire remembrance ceremony in Manhattan.

Fire safety got its roots in a tragic fire 101 years ago - the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

The victims of the fire, as well as the sweeping changes to workplace safety and fire prevention that it brought about, were remembered 100 years later in a solemn ceremony at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street, Manhattan on March 23.

At about 4:45 p.m., quitting time, the fire was first detected in a waste bin on the eighth floor. A few men tried to extinguish it themselves, but the fire quickly spread across the paper patterns and bolts of fabric that filled the sweatshop.

More than 700 people were at work in the 10-story building at the time of the fire, 600 of whom were young, immigrant women between the ages of 16 and 23. The workers scrambled to find available exits, as the fire escapes collapsed and many other exits were locked or blocked.

While many victims were trapped by the smoke and fire, others jumped to their deaths, some holding hands with their friends and loved ones as they fell.

The freight elevator operator, Joseph Zito, was considered a hero that day, making seven or eight dangerously overloaded trips to rescue the victims.

Although firefighters were able to extinguish the fire just 18 minutes after arriving on the scene, 146 lives were lost.

Many of the women were identified by their jewelry or notes they were carrying with their names on them. One, Ignazia Bellotta, was identified by her father, who recognized the heel of her shoe.

As a result of the blaze, and tremendous loss of life, laws were passed nationwide to make residences and workplaces safer.

The Fire Department began teaching fire safety and prevention, staging fire drills in factories across New York (Chief of Department Edward Croker had recommended this four months before the fire). Additionally, the fire spurred the efforts of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union to organize workers and pushed politicians to pass legislation improving sweatshop conditions in the garment industry.

During the anniversary ceremony, Ladder 20 symbolically raised its ladder to the 6th floor of the building, as far as the apparatus reached at that time, and a bell tolled to commemorate each of the 146 workers.

Attendees read aloud the names of those lost in the tragedy and laid carnations in their honor.

Members of the Fire Safety Education team also were at the ceremony, informing observers and passersby about how to keep their homes and workplaces fire safe.

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