Property owners, remember the past fire escape failures and prevent yours from becoming a life trap like the Triangle Shirtwaist factory.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Manhattan, New York City on March 25, 1911 was the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city, and one of the deadliest in US history. The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers – 123 women and 23 men – who died from the fire, smoke inhalation, or falling or jumping to their deaths. Most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women aged 16 to 23, of the victims whose ages are known, the oldest victim was Providenza Panno at 43, and the youngest were 14-year-olds Kate Leone and “Sara” Rosaria Maltese. Read more about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire on Wikipedia.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. George Santayana.
While the reason so many perished in that horrific tragedy was due to locked doors to the stairwells and exits, it is important to note that fire escapes as a whole need to be in great working condition, including the doors leading up to them and all of its parts.
Although the idea to maintaining fire escapes is not at the forefront of many property owners’ priorities, it is something that must considered and maintained on a routine basis to ensure that their property as a whole meets the standards as determined by property codes and Fire Marshalls.
The importance placed on second story fire escape ladders began in the late 1800s when buildings with more than one story came into existence. With extensions on building height came the urgency to ensure that people, from any part of the building, had the ability to escape in the chance of an emergency, and often times egress, or internal, stairs were not enough. When a building is engulfed in flames, such as the instance in on March 25th 1911 when a garment factory in Manhattan, NY killed over 145 workers due to the fact that their interior (egress) fire escape stairs were locked and unable to be utilized (NFPA). Had there been adequate external fire escape routes for these workers to utilize, the amount of deaths would have decreased significantly. After this occurrence and others similar, property owners began to see the importance of ensuring that all stories of a building have enough fire escapes, both internal and external, to fit the size and volume of their building.
Since this occurrence and others similar, the NFPA (National Fire Prevention Association) has worked to put acts in place to better regulate external fire escape maintenance and inspection standards to ensure that mass deaths from inadequate fire escape routes do not keep occurring. The NFPA “Life Safety Code 101” that was put in place in 1927 ruled that buildings now were required to include “a new provision that specified outside stairs, rather than fire escapes, as a means of exterior egress. Outside stairs had more rigorous criteria than fire escapes for stairway width, treads, risers, construction materials, and the protection of the stairway from a building’s interior by rated openings” (NFPA). This way, the importance of external fire scape repairs and maintenance was reiterated and given a more uniform way to hold all property owners accountable for their fire escape stairs and their maintenance. Inspectors saw that relying on internal escapes, such as egress stairs, alone was not beneficial in instances where either the door to access the stairs was locked, or the fire had developed too much for them to be utilized.
Ultimately, the attention was focused primarily on external escape routes because of their ability to give people inside a burning building quicker access to the outside and with proper maintenance, a higher chance of survival. Though developed as a result of a tragic amount of fire-related casualties, these acts and standards of maintenance and repair have been installed and developed over the years following the late 1800s to ensure that similar cases to not occur and that all building inhabitants, regardless of size, have the ability to escape in the chance that a fire occurs.
As we remember this tragic day in 1911 and the quote by George Santayana, don’t let history repeat itself when it comes to the safety of your property occupants. Your safety, and that of your building tenants, is our top priority and we strongly suggest you get your fire escape system inspected by a qualified professional, even if it is not by West Coast Fire Escapes.