The first alarm was sent in from Box Number 289 on the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place, just one block East of Washington Square Park. It was just 4:40 p.m. The fire at that moment was less than five minutes old. The alarm sounded at Company #18 on 12th street.
As Fire Chief Worth arrived, firemen were leading their horses and pumpers through the rain of bodies into position. Chief Worth immediately sent in a second alarm. It was 4:48 p.m. As soon as the pumper and ladder units were in position, firemen disconnected the horses and led them to the safety of Washington Square Park, where they could be watered and calmed down.
Immediately upon their arrival fireman from Company 18 began to fight their way up the stairs against the stream of frantic civilians, pouring down. The firemen found fire on the 8th floor, and per their training, they stopped there to fight it. To have gone higher would have put them above the fire, a suicidal position in a building blaze.
But just one floor above them, the fast majority of victims were dieing, some leaping to their deaths as the flames began to engulf their clothing.
Outside, the ladder companies began to crank their extensions toward the huddled victims on the ninth floor ledges. But the ladders only reached to the seventh floor. The streams of water from the high pressure hoses, even with the aid of pumpers, could only manage to reach the sixth floor. The desperate women and girls, with the flames licking at their backs, and seeing salvation fall two stories short, stepped into space and dropped to their deaths. Some waited too long and fell like flaming meteors.
The corpses were pilling up on the street like discarded dolls. Some were so badly burned it was impossible to tell if they were male or female. Some were so broken by the fall that they could be gathered into bushel baskets and carted away.
In that brief span of time the fire had killed 141 people, most of them seamstress for the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. The fireproof building, true to its name, did not burn. Only the furniture and the people inside it did. The building still stands today.
It was a day in American history when everything went right. It was a day when 141 people died in less than 30 minutes. It was a day so piled with irony, it could have been fuel for the fire.
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