The fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City on March 25th, 1911, claimed 146 lives – mostly young immigrant women. Building owners locked the exit doors to keep the workers in and the union organizers out, so when a fire broke out on the 8th floor it was impossible for some of the 600+ workers on the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors to escape. The fire escape was not sufficient to hold the number of fleeing occupants, and collapsed. Firefighters’ ladders were several stories too short, and water from the fire hoses could not reach the upper floors of the building. Sixty workers jumped to their deaths.
This tragedy resulted in many code changes including fire-proofing, sprinklers, and improved exit procedures from high-rise buildings. The first New York City Bureau of Fire protection was created, better conditions for workers were initiated, and compulsory fire drills and sprinkler installation in factories were enforced. This fire eventually led to the development of NFPA 101, The Life Safety Code.
Here’s a short video about the fire, narrated by Triangle Fire survivors:
Here’s a page about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy, with lots of photos and recorded eyewitness accounts.