The first hook and ladder-Company 20-came up Mercer Street so fast, says Rubino, "that it almost didn't make the turn into Washington Place."
The firemen were having trouble with their horses. They weren't trained for the blood and the sound of the falling bodies. They kept rearing on their hind legs, their eyes rolling. Some men pulled the hitching pins and the horses broke loose, whinnying. Others grabbed the reins and led them away.
The crowd began to shout: "Raise the ladders!"
Company 20 had the tallest ladder in the Fire Department. It swung into position, and a team of men began to crank its lifting gears. A hush fell over the crowd.
The ladder continued to rise. One girl on the ninth floor ledge slowly waved her handkerchief as the ladder crept toward her.
Then the men stopped cranking. The ladder stopped rising.
The crowd yelled in one voice: "Raise the ladders!"
"But the ladder had been raised," Rubino says. "It was raised to its fullest length. It reached only to the sixth floor."
The crowd continued to shout. On the ledge, the girl stopped waving her handkerchief. A flame caught the edge of her skirt. She leaped for the top of the ladder almost 30 feet below her, missed, hit the sidewalk like a flaming comet.
Chief Worth had arrived at the scene at 4:46 O, had ordered the second alarm to be transmitted at 4:48. Two more alarms were called, one at 4:55 and a fourth at 5:10.
In the first two minutes after his arrival, the Chief had assessed the situation. He directed his men to aim high water pressure hoses on the wall above the heads of those trapped on the ledge. "We hoped it would cool off the building close to them and reassure them. It was about the only reassurance we could give. The men did the best they could. But there is no apparatus in the department to cope with this kind of fire."
Leon Stein, The Triangle Fire (New York: A Carroll & Graf/Quicksilver Book, 1962), pp. 18.
The Kheel Center would like to thank Mrs. Miriam Stein and Barbara Ismail for granting permission to use selections from the late Leon Stein's book.