Fire Safety Hazards and Ways to Prevent Them

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Today, people like to talk about the progress we made in the last century. We drive electric cars, send spaceships to the moon, and can see people who live on the other continent in the real-time but we still did not learn much about fire safety. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911 caused the deaths of 146 workers, most of whom were young women, and became the deadliest industrial catastrophe in the history of New York City. If not the greed of the factory owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, who locked the emergency exists to be able to check workers’ purses and did not take care about servicing the fire alarm, all those people could have stayed alive and come back home to those who loved them in the end of the day. Sadly, the lessons of this fire were not learned. 107 years later, on March 25, 2018, in the Russian city of Kemerovo at least 60 people, most of whom were children, were killed in the fire in the shopping mall because the fire alarm did not turn on and the emergency exists were blocked. How can the deaths in the massive fires can be avoided in the future? This is one of the several crucial questions discussed in this documentary.

Max Blanck and Isaac Harris were immigrants chasing the American dream. They wanted to be successful and rich and did not want to lose a single cent. As shirtwaist production became rather risky business with all the fancy clothing models coming from Europe, they had to keep the costs down. The competition did not allow them to increase the costs of the shirtwaists or save on the machinery, and they saved on the resource that was easily replaceable, people. Hundreds of workers worked nine hours a day during the week and seven hours on Saturdays earning the wage that barely allowed them to survive. And those extremely low wages and extended hours were already a victory that was result of the strike held by the factory workers about a year before the fire. As the strike decreased productivity and hurt the profits, owners took it personally. They were intended to keep every cent in their business and did not pay attention to the fire safety. The fire ladder could not carry sufficient weight, and emergency exits were locked because Blanck and Harris ordered to check the purses of the workers in order to make sure that they do not steal material or shirtwaists to sell.

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Moreover, the owners had been at the factory together with their children when the fire started, and they escaped the burning building through the roof without warning the workers. The factory occupied three floors of the building, the eights, the ninth, and the tenth. While employees at the eights floor were aware of the fire and were able to inform colleagues on the tenth floor through the phone, there was no connection with the ninth floor and the fire alarm did not work. As the result, tailors from the ninth floor learned about the catastrophe when they saw the fire and there was no way to escape anymore.

In the movie, the authors present some of the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and this move allows to perceive this tragedy as personal. Young women, who came into the U.S. to chase their dreams or were forced to move together with their families tried to make their ends meet working long hours. As awful as it sounds, their families lost not only their beloved ones but also additional income that allowed to feed their children or support elderly family members. Instead of supporting those who passed away in this terrible tragedy, Blanck and Harris were more preoccupied with a negative image the company can obtain after the tragedy. Also, the families of the victims received only a small fraction of the compensation that was available from the funds that the insurance company paid the owners.

Learning about tragedies that cause massive deaths is always devastating but knowing that lessons have not been learned should make everyone think about what can each of us do to change that. Sometimes, the closed door os not just the closed door but a potential risk for deaths and injuries of tenths or even hundreds of people. Every time we pass by and think that we should mind our own business we support people like Blanck and Harris and become their silent accomplices. This is why we all must remember, “If you see something, say something.” It may save lives.

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