Friday marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City, the second worst workplace disaster in the city's history after September 11th. The tragedy, which killed 146 mostly female immigrant garment workers trapped by illegally locked exit doors, was the catalyst for improved labor laws and building codes in the U.S. The building, considered to be "fireproof", had no sprinklers; a fire hose that could have helped the workers was not functioning at the time of the blaze. Formerly known as the Asch building, the building is now part of the campus of New York University and has been designated as both a National Historic Landmark and a New York City landmark.

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Horse-drawn fire carriages respond to the Triangle Factory fire.

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Firefighters attempting to put out the fire.

 
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An illustration by John Sloane for The Call. March 27, 1911.

The anniversary of the fire coincides with a new code that, starting this year, requires fire sprinklers in all new condos, apartments, and single family homes in Pennsylvania. The code is controversial. Opponents say that sprinklers will add costs for buyers in an already depressed housing market, while mandatory hard-wired smoke detectors are already doing the job. According to a January 2008 study conducted by the Fire Analysis and Research Division of the National Fire Protection Association, the chance of surviving a reported home fire when working smoke alarms are present is as high as 99.45 percent. In a recent editorial, Mark McNaughton, president of the Home Builders Association of Metro Harrisburg, writes that since most home fire deaths are in older homes, requiring the sprinklers in new homes wouldn’t help this statistic.

The Fire Sprinkler Initiative however, claims those statistics are misleading, and that mandatory sprinklers will save more lives than smoke alarms alone. They also say the common assumption that water produces more damage than the actual fire is untrue.

Is the new code worth the extra cost and safety or is it just a money-maker for sprinkler manufacturers and installers? Let us know what you think.