Key Testimony Before the Fire Investigating Commission Concerning the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

(1) Testimony of Fire Chief Edward F. Croker
(2)  G. I. Harmon, Labor Department Inspector
(3) Testimony of Fire Marshall William L. Beers


NEW YORK, October 10, 1911 

ABRAM I. ELKUS, Counsel to the Commission. 
BERNARD L. SHIENTAG, Assistant Counsel.   

The act creating the Commission was read by Vice-Chairman Smith. 

The VICE-CHAIRMAN: The Commission being present and ready to proceed, we would like to hear
from counsel. 

MR. ELKUS: We all regret, of course, that Senator Wagner, by reason of his illness, is unable to be
present and act as chairman of the Commission. It is unfortunate that the occurrence of a catastrophe is often necessary to awaken a people to its true sense of responsibility. The Triangle Waist Company fire of March, 1911, with its attendant horrors and loss of life shocked both city and State. The loss of one hundred and forty-three lives in one factory fire brought to the attention of the public with terrible force the dangers that daily threaten the lives of
hundreds of thousands of employees in manufacturing establishments in the City of New York and elsewhere throughout the State.... 

MR. ELKUS: With your permission, Mr. Chairman, we will call Mr. Croker as the first witness. 

EDWARD F. CROKER, called as a witness, being first duly sworn, testifies as follows: 

Direct examination by Mr. ELKUS: 

Q. Chief, will you tell the Commissioners just how long you have been in the Fire Department, what
positions you have held, etc., so that we may have it upon the record? 

A. I was appointed fireman June 22nd, 1884, and went through the various grades of the department from time to time, until I arrived at the position of Chief of the department; I served in that capacity for twelve years and retired May first of the present year. 

Q. During that time, did you make any study of the conditions of manufacturing in New York City, from
a fireman's standpoint? 

A. I did, sir. 

Q. Will you tell the Commissioners, briefly, just what occurred during that time that you were in the Fire
Department - the changes that occurred, in the methods of manufacturing, the kinds of buildings formerly
used, and the kind that are used at this time? 

A. The building formerly used, say twenty years ago, was the ordinary four and five story brick building, wooden floor beams, wooden floors, etc., up to the present class of buildings. 

Q. There were no elevators in the old buildings? 

A. Very few; stairways ere used - wooden stairways, not elevators. 

Q. Did they have fire-escapes - were they fireproof as a rule or not? 

A. No, sir. They have gradually improved to the so-called fireproof building, which consists of buildings that you are all probably acquainted with around New York to-day, from twelve to twenty-five stories high. 

Q. These buildings from twelve to twenty-five stories are what are called loft buildings? 

A. So-called loft buildings. 

Q. They vary in size from twenty-five feet wide to one hundred feet deep, or more? 

A. The average is fifty to seventy-five feet. 

Q. Wide, and the depth eighty-five or ninety feet? 

A. Yes, sir. 

Q. Now, in these loft buildings, there are usually a great many occupants, are there not? 

A. Generally there is a different occupant on each floor. 

Q. And in some of the buildings is manufacturing carried on on each floor? 

A. Yes, sir. 

Q. Will you give us an idea of the kinds of different occupants - the different kinds of businesses that will
be found in a ten or twelve story building of the kind that you have referred to? 

A. Manufacturers of ladies' shirt waists, manufacturer of ladies' underwear, manufacturer of ladies' cloaks, manufacturer of ladies' suits, and the manufacture of clothing. 

Q. All under one roof? 

A. All under one roof. 

Q. Can you tell me whether or not these people use machines - many of them power machines? 

A. They all use machines; yes sir. 

Q. How many employees are there in these buildings - in these buildings that you refer to? 

A. Anywhere from 150 to 300. 

Q. On each floor? 

A. On each floor. 

Q. So that sometimes in a ten-story building you will find the extreme would be, say, twenty-five hundred
persons in one building? 

A. Yes. 

Q. That would be almost a town in itself? 

A. (No answer.) 

Q. Are these lofts open, or divided off by partitions - what kind of partitions are they? 

A. Most are open lofts, and they are divided off - if they are divided off, they are divided by 3/8 inch pins. 

Q. Now, about the material used in the manufacture of goods in these buildings that you refer to - what
about that? 

A. All inflammable. 

Q. Now, about the method of egress in ingress in these buildings - what is there so far as elevators are

A. It all depends upon the size of the building. 

Q. Just tell us. 

A. Take a 50x100 foot building. If it is on a corner, it will probably have two stairways, one on each street, and a passenger elevator. 

Q. Will you describe the location of the stairs with references to the elevator? 

A. The stairway is generally built around the elevator. 

Q. They wind around the elevators? 

A. They wind around the elevators. 

Q. Now, as a rule, are the staircases divided from the elevator by walls and partitions? 

A. some are and some are not. 

Q. Now, will you tell us about your experience in these buildings, if anything is done as a rule to protect them from fire? 

A. Generally there is nothing done. They use the waste, oils and such things as that; oily waste especially is very combustible. 

Q. I believe a great many of these employees smoke cigarettes and cigars? 

A. It is almost impossible to stop it; a cigarette is a tonic. 

Q. They consider it a tonic? 

A. They consider it a tonic. 

Q. Tell us about the fire-escapes - of the things you have seen? 

A. Very few of the factories have outside fire-escapes; very few; they have very few outside fire-escapes, and where they have them they are inadequate. They use the stairways. They call those things the fire-escapes; they also use the elevators, and they call them fire-escapes. An elevator in a building is generally a fire shaft. 

Q. Do you mean to say that under the law they can permit an elevator to be called a fire-escape? 

A. They don't permit it to be called a fire-escape, but they use it as such and mark it as such. 

Q. In the case of fire? 

A. In the case of fire. 

Q. Aren't they required in a ten-story loft building to have exterior fire-escapes? 

A. It lies within the discretion of the Superintendent of Buildings - that is, in what they call a fireproof building. 

Q. In other words, if a building is fireproof, the Superintendent may not require them to have exterior
fire-escapes; and in that case they are allowed to use the elevators and stairs? 

A. Elevator and stairs. 

Q. In these various buildings where there are exterior fire-escapes built, access is had to them from the

A. Yes, sir. 

Q. What has been your experience, Chief, with reference to the use of these fire-escapes in case of fire? Are they used at all? 

A. A great many will use them, but they are not used to advantage. Women, and especially children - girls, such as work in these buildings, cannot descend them. 

Q. They cannot get down on them? 

A. Not readily. 

Q. Is it your idea if they are to continue, they should be made with a regular staircase? 

A. With regular staircase, and made to extend away from the building - not close to the building. 

Q. How far away? 

A. At least four feet. 

Q. Is there any other suggestion that you have to give the Commission as to the use of fire-escapes? 

A. There have been some cases where fire-escapes, by being very crowded, have pulled away from the building. Fire-escape should be built into the building by having the floor beams extend out to the proper width. 

Q. That is, the beams should extend out from the building and the fire-escapes supported on them? 

A. Supported on them. 

Q. Now, about the terminus of a fire-escape - what has been your knowledge of that? 

A. A great many terminate in a court or in a rear yard, and it is absolutely impossible for the occupants to escape when they go down that far. 

Q. That is, after they get down the fire-escape, they are in an enclosed yard? 

A. In an enclosed yard. 

Q. What have you to suggest as a remedy for that? 

A. They should extend to, or have an entrance direct to the street; and in a great many cases, where the window is would make the best fire-escape by putting a door there, and running a bridge from one building to the other. 

Q. From one roof to another? 

A. Or out to another street. 

Q. From the rear of one building to the rear of another? 

A. By running a bridge. 

Q. That would be very inexpensive? 

A. Yes, make a very good fire-escape. 

Q. That means getting permission, of course, of both parties, does it not? 

A. I believe so. 

Q. With reference to the window or door leading to the fire-escape, should the window be cut down and made a door? 

A. Yes, sir. 

Q. That should be made to open inward or outward? 

A. Outward. 

Q. And that should be made compulsory; is that your view? A. In all these cases, it should be mandatory. I find in my experience in and around these buildings, that a great majority of the people who occupy the various establishments would rather take a chance on the loss of life than spend five or ten dollars to prevent it.  Is that your experience? 

A. Positively. 

Q. How about the shutters leading to the fire-escape? 

A. They should not be allowed. 

Q. They should not be permitted? 

A. No, sir. 

Q. A fire-escape window or door leading to the fire-escape be constructed? 

A. They should be set in metal frame. 

Q. Do you recommend that? 

A. Yes, sir. 

Q. Now, Chief, about the occupation of these buildings. In your experience in fighting fires, what have you found to be the condition of these buildings so far as their occupation is concerned - material and machinery on the floors - just tell the Commission what your experience has been. 

A. Some buildings you go into are kept nicely, but the majority of others you go in are unkept; they are dirty; they are unclean; their stock is strewed all over the floor. Where they use machinery there are no passageways whatsoever. 

Q. Tell the Commission about the difficulties in fighting a fire of that kind. 

A. In a great many cases there is only about one door on that loft you can get in. Goods are piled up in front of the windows, in front of the doors, and you have got to use a battering ram to get into any of them. 

Q. How about the passageways being blocked? 

A. Piled right to the ceiling. Many a time the firemen get into places in the night time and there is no room for a man to go through the passages. 

Q. How about the passageway to a fire-escape? Do you find those blocked or open? 

A. Find them blocked. 

Q. How about locked doors to the staircases? Have you found that? 

A. Oh, yes, plenty of them. The doors going to the roof are locked. They pay absolutely no attention to the fire hazard or to the protection of the employees in these buildings. That is their last consideration. 

Q. What do you suggest should be done with reference to these locked doors, and things like that? 

A. There should be mandatory legislation to compel them to keep the doors unlocked during working hours. All doors should be opened up. Aisles should be kept clear, obstructions should be moved away from doorways, and windows and so forth; and in case of any violations of such a law there should be a severe penalty  attached to it. 

Q. Imprisonment or fine? 

A. You can't make it too heavy. You have got a class of people doing business constantly, not only in New York City, with whom you've got to deal severely, and give them to understand that there is the law, and they have got to obey it, for the protection of property and the people that they employ. If you don't have drastic legislation you can't get anything from them. 

Q. What have you got to say about wooden partitions? 

A. If I had my say I wouldn't allow a piece of wood in sight in any buildings of any description. 

Q. You mean in the shape of a partition or a table? 

A. In the shape of a partition, or window trims or door trims, or baseboards - nothing at all in the construction of a building should be of wood. 

Q. Tell the Commission your reasons for that statement. 

A. The reason is because all wood is inflammable and it only adds fuel to a fire which may occur. 

Q. Well, do you believe that there would be less loss of life if those rules were followed? 

A. I do, sir. 

Q. Were you present at the fire of the Triangle Waist Company building? 

A. I was, sir. 

Q. And you made a careful investigation of that fire, did you not? 

A. Yes, sir, I did. 

Q. Now, just a word about that. Was that a loft building of the kind you described? 

A. Yes, sir 

Q. How many stories high? 

A. Twelve stories. 

Q. And this fire was on one or more floors in that building? 

A. It originated on the ninth. 

Q. And they had an out-door fire-escape there, didn't they? 

A. On the rear. 

Q. And it led down into an enclosed yard? 

A. It led down into an enclosed yard. 

Q. What did you ascertain were the facts there with reference to closed doors. 

A. Well, from what we could find -what was left of that place up there - I don't think there was any doubt there was a partition inside of the doorway leading out into the Green Street side of that building, and from the indication of the number of people we found where that partition was, that door was locked, and the door that opened into it, opened on the inside. 

Q. Was it locked with a lock and key, or a bolt? 

A. A lock and key, but it opened in. 

Q. Was it a wooden door? 

A. Yes. 

Q. Now, you referred in you testimony to the fireproof building. What has been your experience as to
these buildings being actually fireproof? 

A. They are only so-called fireproof, fireproof by name. 

Q. What is the actual fact, do they burn or not? 

A. They are not fireproof. They burn and they make a hot fire. 

Q. Who says they are fireproof? That is a provision of law, isn't it? 

A. A provision of the law. 

Q. Then, as I understand you, Chief, the materials which go into making these buildings do not make a fireproof building? 

A. No, sir. 

Q. Well, is it possible to create, to erect a fireproof building? 

A. Yes, sir. 

Q. Of what material would it be? 

A. Brick, stone or terra cotta. Steel construction with metal trim and concrete floors. I would say eliminate wood, and use the steel trim and the concrete floors. 

Q. Well, as I understand you, what makes these buildings known as fireproof buildings, non-fireproof is the fact that the trim of the interior floors are wood or inflammable material. 

A. Yes. Now, bear in mind the fact, counselor, that the shells of these buildings may be brick and steel, and that they are advertised as fireproof, just to fool the public. But the inside of the building contains inflammable material
and burns with great intensity. 

Q. So that when a fire occurs the inside of the building burns out and leaves the shell which is fireproof?

A. Yes. 

Q. And it is your recommendation that if they want to have a fireproof building, a building that is
absolutely fireproof, they should not have any lumber in it? 

A. Yes, sir. 

Q. Now, can any reliance be placed upon these elevators as fire-escapes? 

A. No, sir. 

Q. Why not? 

A. Because they can only carry a very few people in the first place, and they burn up quickly and the heat and smoke become so intense that the operator can generally make only one or two trips after a fire starts. 

Q. After a fire? 

A. After a fire starts, and it has been my experience that in the excitement, after they leave the floor in which the fire occurs, they generally leave the door open, and people walk into the elevator shaft. 

Q. That is to say they leave the door open and unguarded, and people fall down the shaft? 

A. Yes, sir. 

Q. Now in this Asch Building fire did that occur or did the people jump down the shaft as a means to try
to escape? 

A. Well, we found them in the shaft. We don't know how they got there.... 

Q. With reference to saving life after a fire occurs, the Department does use fire nets, doesn't it, where
people have to jump? 

A. Yes. 

Q. Have those proved useful, or are they not strong enough, or have they been able to make them strong enough? 

A. They are made as strong as they know how to make them, and they has been very satisfactory. We have never had one failure up to the Asch building. 

Q. What happened there? 

A. They went through the net. 

Q. What was the reason of that? 

A. The extreme height. 

Q. That is because the bodies came from such a height the net could not held them, or did the material give way, or did the people who held the nets? 

A. Both; they all went in a pile together. It would be impossible to hold those people as they fell there; when they hit the sidewalk or iron gratings, the impact of their bodies was so great they drove right through the iron gratings into the cellar. 

Q. Just describe to the Commission the fire nets used at the Asch fire. They are held by how many people, and how large are they? 

A. They are ten feet in circumference, and they are held by ten or twelve men, or more if you can get them around it, and you can catch - I have seen people time after time jump from the fifth, sixth or seventh floor and not get a scratch. 

Q. In this case, although they were held by the same number of people, and the material was strong enough - strong as it could be - by the way, what are they made of? 

A. The best canvas that can be purchased, and they are hung on springs. When you strike into the net you do not get a sudden jar, but get a spring effect. The rim is heavy steel. 

Q. In the Asch fire the net went right down with all the people holding it? 

A. Yes. 

Q. From the impact of the bodies? 

A. Yes. 

Q. Have you any suggestion to make to the Commission with reference to the different kinds of fire nets which would hold this impact of the body? 

A. I do not think they could manufacture anything that would stand the impact of a body from that height. 

Q. Would it be possible to have a fire net on poles, for instance, that would give enough way to it, so that a body coming from a great height would be able to sag enough without breaking? 

A. The time you get that erected and ready for the people to jump, they would be burned to death. You have to have
something for immediate use. They ought to have something there they can get at in case of necessity before the arrival of the department. 

Q. That is to say, there ought to be a way of getting out before the Department got there? 

A. Oh, yes; you cannot wait. Like the Asch building fire, they could not wait until the  arrival of the Fire Department, even if we had the appliances. They were jumping out of the windows before the department arrived. 

Q. So that as a practical matter if people are obliged to jump out of the windows of a loft building which is over five or six stories in height, there is no way of saving their lives? 

A. Well, I won't say five or six. 

Q. I say above five or six, or seven or eight? 

A. Seven or eight stories high, if they jump, I don't know of anything you can manufacture that will hold them. I saw it figured out for a body weighing 150 pounds, they struck over two tons from that height when they hit the sidewalk. I don't know but it was over that.... 

Q. The Building Department is responsible that the building is safe, and that the floor has the carrying capacity? 

A. The fault in New York City is that there is nobody responsible for anything. The Fire Department is not responsible; the Building Department is not responsible; the Police Department is not responsible; the Health Department is not responsible. If anything happens they are all stepping from under. 

Q. In other words, when anything happens, each one blames it on the other department, and it would be your idea, and your recommendation to the Commission, that the responsibility should be fixed upon some one particular head of some one department? 

A. Yes. 

Q. And at the same time give him the corresponding power? 

A. The Asch Building fire started with the Fire Department. The Fire Department says, "Our records are all right; everything we ordered was complied with." The Building Department says, "Our records are all right." The Health Department says, "Our records are all right." The Police Department have not got through investigating yet, and I don't
think they ever will and nobody is responsible. There are just as many factories in New York in the same condition as the Asch Building was and probably is today. 



(Continuation of the October 10, 1911 hearing) 

G. I. HARMON, called as a witness, and being duly sworn, testified as follows: 

Examined by Mr. ELKUS: 

Q. What is your name, sir? 

A. G. I. Harmon. 

Q. Are you an inspector in the Labor Department? 

A. Yes. 

Q. How long have you been there? 

A. Fifteen years last August.... 

Q. When was it that you examined the Triangle building prior to the fire? 

A. The 27th of February. 

Q. 1911? 

A. 1911. 

Q. Now, when did the fire take place? 

A. Some time in March; I don't recall the date. 

Q. Then you examined the building within two weeks of the fire or so? 

A. Well, I don't know whether it was two months or two weeks, but it was a very short time. 

Q. Within a month we will say? 

A. Yes. 

Q. What examination did you make of that building? 

A. I made a regular inspection of each factory in the building. 

Q. What did that consist of? What did you do? 

A. I first go to the office and introduce myself. I get the data that I have to have - the number of people employed, men and women. If they have children there, I want to get their certificates, see their register, ascertain all the information in the office, then get someone to go with me and go through the factory. If they have machinery, look at the machinery. In the Triangle building underneath the table I found cuttings there, and then I looked into the sanitary conditions, examined the toilets, to see that there are enough of them, and that they are clean, and the number employed there, to see if there are enough of them. I see that they have a dressing room if they have girls employed. If they have a fire-escape, I see that the windows to the fire-escape are open and free, raise them and try them. If there are doors to the halls I open the doors and see that they are unlocked. I look into the general sanitary condition of the entire building, the care of sinks and water, and see that their drinking water is all right. 

Q. How long did it take you, for instance, to examine the Triangle Waist building. They have three lofts?

A. Yes. 

Q. How long did it take you? 

A. Possibly an hour and a half to two hours. 

Q. And were any of aisles which led to the fire-escapes blocked by material? 

A. No. The aisles that lead to the fire-escape, you mean? Between the machines, you mean? 

Q. Yes. 

A. Not that I recall. If there was, I made a note of it. I may have made a note of it in my book, and I may have not. The only way I could tell is by referring to my book. 

Q. Were any of the doors locked which led to the stairs? 

A. They were not. 

Q. Did they have locks on them? 

A. Yes. 

Q. Before you went around to examine this factory, you went to the office and asked for someone in authority and told them your business and what you were there for? 

A. Yes. 

Q. So that they had plently (sic) of time to remedy any defects that existed temporarily while you were there? 

A. Yes. 

Q. So, as far as the locking of the doors was concerned, for even material in the aisles, that might have been hastily cleaned up or remedied for the moment? 

A. That might have been. 

Q. Well, don't you think it would have been better and a fairer examination if you didn't tell them who you were, and just walked through? 

A. Well, in the first place, it is sometimes difficult to get into a place of that kind without telling them who you are. 

Q. Well, I mean if you had no difficulty in getting in? 

A. Well, you have to get a certain amount of information. 

Q. Do you mean about the number of employees, how many men and how many women and so forth?

A. Yes. You go into a perfectly strange shop that you were never in you life, and you would be pretty near lost unless you asked questions of somebody. 

Q. You wouldn't be lost in trying to find where the staircase was, and whether doors were locked or not?

A. You have got to find a lot of other things; you have got to find the toilets and the dressing rooms, and you have got to find a lot of other things; you have got to find the toilets and the dressing rooms, and you have got to find if they have children employed, you have got to call upon and find the children. 

Q. You can ask any employee where they are? 

A. Sometimes you get an answer and sometimes you don't. Some of them are foreigners. 

Q. And it may become necessary to have someone who understood a foreign language with you? 

A. I do-- I take an interpreter very often. 

Q. You, of course, could just as well get this information about the number of people in the factory afterwards as you could in the beginning. You see what we are trying to point out, Mr. Harmon, is that these conditions which exist in factories are not discovered because the inspectors inform somebody in authority that they are there, and the persons in authority know what you are looking for. Now, take the question of filth, you discover that in many cases, haven't you? 

A. Why, yes. 

Q. And it looks, when you discover it in factories, to be pretty permanent? 

A. Well, as a rule. 

Q. And you order that it be cleaned? 

A. Yes. 

Q. And whether they comply with your order you generally don't know, do you? 

A. Well, that depends on where I am, and what the conditions are. Sometimes I stayed there until they complied with that -- right there. 

Q. And then they may go right back into the same condition? 

A. I think they do, in a shop of that kind. 

Q. Well, what do you suggest can be done there? 

A. Why, my experience is that when that man has been made an example of, that he doesn't require so much attention afterwards. 

Q. That is the only thing you have to suggest? 

A. I am talking about a man keeping his shop clean. 

Q. Well, now, go back to this particular Triangle Waist Company loft. Did you discover any violations of the law when you were there at all? 

A. Yes, sir, I did. 

Q. What did you discover? 

A. Well, the shafting under the machine tables was not guarded; that is, a portion of it was not guarded, and part of it was. They had no dressing rooms for the girls, that is, that complied with the law, and the lights in the halls were inadequate. 

Q. That is, the lights in the hall which went downstairs? 

A. Yes, the hall should be kept lighted. 

Q. Did you find the doors leading to the stairs opening inward? 

A. They all opened in, every one of them. 

Q. Did you report that to the Department? 

A. I did. 

Q. Did you order it remedied? 

A. I did not. In my judgment it wasn't practicable to open out into the hall because the halls were too narrow, and I so reported. 

Q. Did you order sliding doors put in? 

A. I did not. 

Q. Did you order a vestibule door put in? 

A. I did not. 

Q. Do you realize that if those doors had not opened inward there might not have been such a loss of life?

A. Well, the idea of sliding doors is new since. Yes, I realize that. I know that. I knew that before. The doors should swing out. 

Q. How wide were the spaces between the wall and the end of each row of machines where the employees had to walk in order to get to the doors or fire-escapes? 

A. Well, you are asking me questions that it is hard for me to answer. The only thing that I can rely on is the record I have in my book, and my book makes no record of anything of that kind at all. 

Q. Didn't you bring your report here with you? 

A. Yes, I have it. 

Q. Well, look at it. 

A. That does not show what you are asking; it doesn't show the space between the end of the tables and the wall. 

Q. The space there ought to be wide enough for the employees to pass through easily in case of fire or in
ordinary cases of panic? 

A. Yes. 

Q. Isn't it a fact that the space was only eighteen inches? 

A. Between the end of the table and the wall? 

Q. Between the end of the table and the wall. 

A. Well, between the end of the table and the wall on the Washington Place side that may be possible. 

Q. Well, that is where they have to go, these employees had to go? 

A. I beg your pardon. They had to go the other way to get out, they had to pass between the tables. At the end of the table on the north side of the building, what is known as the north side of the building, there was ample room there, there was no aisle there, and they used the Greene Street stairway, they didn't use the Washington Place Stairway. 

Q. Couldn't they use the Washington Place stairway in case of fire? 

A. Yes. 

Q. Wasn't it your duty to see that there was adequate space for the employees to reach either staircase, whether Washington or Greene Street in case of fire or other hazardous cause? 

A. Well, yes, it is my duty, yes. 

Q. Well, then, didn't you find that the space leading to the Washington Place stairs between the end of the
tables and machines and the wall was only eighteen inches, and that that was inadequate? 

A. I did not measure the space, but I think that that is about right. 

Q. And that was an inadequate space? 

A. Well, that depends altogether on conditions. That is an adequate space for people not in a hurry. 

Q. Well, when there is a fire, people are in a hurry and your duty was to examine this space to find out whether the people could get out in a hurry? A. I know, but there were other ways besides that aisle, that 18-inch aisle. 

Q. I know, but doesn't the law require you to find that every way out is a proper way? 

A. If you can show me that in the law, I would be glad to see it. 

Q. Doesn't the law require you to inspect and find out that proper space is given to every egress in case of fire, and that the ways are not blocked or impeded? 

A. It doesn't say egress, it says exits. As I understand the meaning of the word "exit," it is a window or door which leads to the fire-escape. 

Q. Then you don't agree with me. Let me understand now, if I am right -- that it makes not difference, according to your contention, whether the way to the stairs is blocked or not. You have nothing to do with it? 

A. Oh, yes. Now, you are not getting that fairly. 

Q. I don't want to be unfair to you. 

A. The way to the stairs is not to be blocked, and I wouldn't allow it to be blocked. 

Q. Well, have you any authority there? 

A. If I could stop it I would not allow it to be blocked. It is quite a question in my mind how far my authority goes there. 

Q. Have you ever asked for instructions from your Department upon it? 

A. Well, the matter has been talked over. It is one of the things where you are supposed -- it is a case where you are supposed to use your good judgment. 

Q. Now, if the aisles to the stairs were blocked absolutely --- 

A. I would order them cleared out. 

Q. And if they were blocked partially, so as to make them inadequate for a number of people in a hurry, wasn't that your duty to report it? 

A. I did report it.   

Q. Didn't you report that there were only eighteen inches space? 

A. I did not.   

Q. How many people were employed in the Triangle Waist Factory? 

A. About 400 man and women --150 men and 250 women. 

Q. Understand, I don't want to be in the least unfair to you. I wouldn't for anything. Now, what else did you discover? You started to tell me some violations of the law you discovered there when you examined it. What else did you discover? Was there any dirt on the floor? 

A. No dirt, except the natural refuse from the wok that they were doing. 

Q. Was there any more than would be there from one day's work? 

A. That is all.   

Q. Were the employees smoking? 

A. Well, I saw stains on the table where cigarettes had laid. 

Q. The marks of the cigarette? 

A. In that particular case I saw nobody smoking there. I have reported that to the employers time and again, of seeing men smoking in shops, because I know it is a mighty dangerous habit. 

Q. Was there anything else that you discovered? 

A. Only the things that I told you, the dressing room, the shafting unguarded under the tables, and the lights in the hall. 

Q. When did you make your next inspection? 

A. I haven't been there since. 

Q. Did you notice whether these doors that opened inward had locks on them and keys in the locks? 

A. The Washington side did. I don't know whether the Greene Street side did or not. The employees used that side, you know; they used it going up and downstairs. 

Q. It was open all the time? 

A. They were going back and forward all the time, going downstairs. 

Q. Was the door which led to the elevator also open? 

A. Yes, and the elevators were on the Greene Street side, three elevators on the Greene Street side and two elevators on the Washington Place side. 

Q. Now, where the doors were not swinging open -- the door which opened inward -- did you notice whether or not the man who took you through turned the key and opened the door that way? 

A. They didn't unlock the door at all. A girl took me through, a young lady out of the office. They were very busy and sent the telephone girl with me. 

Q. Well, didn't you go back in this case to see whether or not the violations which you found were complied with? 

A. I did not. They were turned over to another deputy. 

Mr. ELKUS: That is all. Any questions from the Commissioners? 


NEW YORK, November 17, 1911 

Present HON. ROBERT F. WAGNER, Chairman, 
HON. A.E. Smith, Assemblyman, 
HON. C.W. Phillips, Assemblyman, 
MISS MARY E. DREIER,Commission. 


ABRAM I. ELKUS, Esq., Counsel to the Committee. 
BERNARD L. SHIENTAG, Esq., Of Counsel.   

WILLIAM L. BEERS, called as a witness and, being duly sworn, testified as follows: 

Examination by Mr. ELKUS: 

Q. Mr. Beers, were you fire marshal of the city? 

A. Yes, sir. 

Q. Were you connected with the Fire Department, and, if so, for how long? 

A. I was with the Fire Department for twelve years, up to November 15, when I retired. 

Q. During all that time were you Fire Marshall? 

A. Assistant Fire Marshall and Fire Marshall. 

Q. What are the duties of the Fire Marshal? 

A. To investigate the cause and origin of fires, to prosecute those persons guilty of incendiarism or arson, and, under the charter, previous to the passing of the Hoey law, he had the investigating into such conditions as would cause or promote a fire, or injure a fireman in the course of his duties, and under certain conditions investigate the conduct of firemen at fires....

Q. Did you visit the Triangle Waist Company Building immediately after the fire? 

A. Yes, sir. 

Q. Did you make an investigation? 

A. I was there all during the evening of the fire, and was there on the ground the next morning at nine o'clock. 

Q. Tell us what you observed. 

A. The result of my investigation and the taking of testimony for ten days after the fire was that I was of the opinion that the fire occurred on the eighth floor on the Greene street side, under a cutting table, which table was enclosed and that contained the waste material as cut from this lawn that was used to make up the waists. They were in the habit of cutting about 160 to 180 thicknesses of lawn at one time; that formed quite a lot of waste, which was placed under the cutting tables, as it had a commercial value of about seven cents a pound. 

Q. Was it boxed, or just placed on the floor? 

A. Well, the boards that were nailed on the legs of the table formed the box or receptacle. 

Q. The outside of that receptacle was wood? 

A. Yes; it was all wood. 

Q. How did the fire start there in that stuff? 

A. Well, we formed the opinion that it started from the careless use of a match from one of the cutters. They were about to leave to go home, and in those factories they are very anxious to get a smoke just as quick as they get through work. 

Q. A man simply lighted a match? 

A. Yes; and carelessly threw it under there; then the attention of the occupants was called to it, and they tried to extinguish it before they rang in a fire alarm. 

Q. Did you examine the fire-escapes of that building? 

A. After the fire. 

Q. What did you find? 

A. I found the fire-escape on the rear of the building, which was the only one, and was entirely inadequate for the number of people employed in that building. 

Q. Why were they inadequate? 

A. Too small and too light, and the iron shutters on the outside of the building when opened would have obstructed the egress of the people passing between the stairway and the platform. 

Q. How many people were there on the eighth floor? 

A. something over 250, as I recall it. 

Q. How many sewing machines? 

A. There was a cutting department, and it was partially used for machines for making fine waists. About 220 persons were on the eighth floor, all of whom escaped. 

Q. How did they come to escape? 

A. They went down the stairway and down the fire-escape, some of them. 

Q. How about the ninth floor? 

A. The loss of life was the greatest on the ninth floor. There were about 310 people there. 

Q. How many sewing machines? 

A. Two hundred and eighty-eight. 

Q. Now, will you tell the Commission whether or not the place was overcrowded with the machines? 

A. Yes, sir. All the space that could be utilized there was utilized. 

Q. Were any attempts made in that case to extinguish the fire? 

A. Yes, there were. They used fire pails there, and then attempted to use the fire hose. 

Q. What happened to the fire hose? 

A. Well, they claimed they could not get any water to it. 

Q. How about the fire pail, why did not that put out the fire? 

A. They did not get enough water to put it out. It spread very rapidly. The material is very inflammable, and it travels very fast, and the conditions were there, everything, to build a fire. 

Q. How many fires would you say, Marshal, could have been prevented if ordinary precautions were used? 

A. You mean in the factories? 

Q. Yes. 

A. I am not prepared to say, Mr. Elkus. I am of the opinion that the precautions that are used to safeguard these premises in the form of installation of fire-extinguishing apparatus would have a tendency to keep the fires down to a small size. All fires are of the same size at the start, and I think the loss and damage would be a great deal less by having available apparatus. 

Q. In other words, while a number of these fires might start, if there were proper appliances, they would
be prevented from amounting to anything but a very small fire? 

A. Yes; especially lives would be safeguarded. 

Q. Lives would be saved, and money would be saved? 

A. Yes sir. 

Q. What recommendations have you to make for legislation to the Commission with reference to the prevention of fires and the saving of lives, and also with reference to the spread of fires? 

A. Out of the city and in the city? 

Q. Both. 

A. I think that all manufacturing establishments should have an interior automatic signalling device to call attention to fires when they occur, and they should also have an automatic extinguishing device in the form of sprinklers and of standpipes. Local fire drills should be compulsory and all the exits in factories should be marked, as in theatres, and the factory employees should be drilled the same as the crew of a ship is drilled. The fire station should be known, and the specific duties of each employee should be known in case of fire. That is, some of the men should be directed to get female employees out of the building, and the others should be directed to get the male employees together for the purpose of fighting the fire and holding it in check until such time as assistance came. I think that here in the city, all these loft buildings that are used for manufacturing purposes, the equipment should be standardized and should be as nearly fireproof as possible, and no tenant should be permitted to occupy a building of  that kind without first filing a plan showing the way in which the manufacturing apparatus is to be installed, and that should be as near fireproof as possible; and he should not be permitted to fill up his building with a lot of combustible material without proper supervision. The number of persons employed in a given area should be specified and approved and the plan of the building, with the exits all marked, should be posted on the walls of the building, so that it would be there and the employees could become familiar with it, and know just where they are to go in case of fire. Smoking should be absolutely prohibited in such industries as shirt-waist making and light lawn dresses, or where any of those light
inflammables are used, chiffons and veilings, straw goods, hat factories, or in any factory using a large quantity of material that is inflammable. I think, also, it would be wise to have lectures in the public schools, under the auspices of the Board of Education, instructing these employes what to do in case of fire, especially in schools located in these districts where the factory employees reside. 

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