Triangle Shirtwaist Lesson Plan Menu
Human Rights
Student File #11

No Way Out: Two New York City Firemen Testify
About the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

Testimony before the Factory Investigation Commission, New York City Fire Chief Edward F. Croker and Fire Marshall William Beers.

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 in on record?

A. I was appointed fireman June 22, 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 1 of the present year.

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 to an enclosed yard?

A. It led down into an enclosed yard.

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

William L. Beers, called as a witness and, being duly sworn, testified as follows:

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 Marshal?

A. Assistant Fire Marshal and Fire Marshal.

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 layers of lawn at one time; that formed 4uite a lot of waste, which was placed under the cutting tables, as it had a 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.

Q. The outside of that box 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 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 workers were called to it, and they tried to extinguish it before they rang in a fire alarm.

Q. Did you examine the fire escape 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 blocked the people passing between the stairway and the fire escape.

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 partly 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 greatest on the ninth floor. There were about 3 10 people there.

Q. How many sewing machines?

A. 288.

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 used there was used.

Q Were any attempts made to extinguish the fire?

A. Yes, there were. They used fire pails there, and then tried 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 that not put out the fire?

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

Q. How many fires would you say, Marshal, could have been prevented if ordinary care 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 care that are used to guard these factories by putting in fire extinguishing care would have kept the fire 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 equipment.


Essential Question
Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Day Four
Day Five
Day Six
Day Seven
Concluding Assignment
Student Materials

Urban Dreams
OUSD Curriculum Unit
An Inquiry Unit into the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911

Subject: US History
Grade Level: 11th
Lesson Plan Author:
Miriam Laska