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
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
A. I was, sir.
Q. And you made a careful investigation of that fire, did you
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
A. Well, we found them in the shaft. We don't know how they got
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
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
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?
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?
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