In Researching the history of North Brooklyn it is staggering how often the area suffered fires and how large and deadly they were. We are all aware of the tragic explosion in the East Village last week and the Diamond Fire was even more tragic. On November 6, 1915 twelve people, mostly women, lost their lives because a fire broke out and the factory owners were in violation of the fire code and there were not enough exits for people to escape. The fire took place at 285-287 North Sixth Street. The building was gutted, but it was the awful human toll that was worst.
Edward Diamond and his wife Celia were charged with criminal negligence and homicide as a result of their failure to follow the fire code. They had been ordered to fire-proof the halls of their factory months earlier, but they had not complied. Four years earlier New York had experienced the horror of the Triangle Shirt factory fire in which one hundred and forty-six people died. New York responded by supposedly becoming very strict with fire code, but apparently the Diamonds learned nothing from the Triangle fire.
There were many explanations as to how and where the fire started, but the one grim fact was that the fire spread with lightning speed. There were two hundred people employed in the building and when the flames spread with such rapidity it created a general panic. The Daily Eagle reported that the stairs and fire escapes ” A straggling mass of humanity clogged the stairs and fire escapes.” Although they had done fire drills people lost all sense of order and they pressed ahead jamming the exits. The fire was reported at one forty and quickly there were twelve streams of water, but it was already too late for the doomed building as the roof collapsed and the other floors quickly followed.
One of the workers in the candy factory explained that he and others made it to the roof, but the roof door was locked. Workers ran to the windows and saw a sheet of flame rising towards their floor that terrified them.
There was a hero at the fire though. The night watchman, Thomas Savino, had come to the factory to collect his check. When he saw the flames he entered the burning building and despite being seared by the flames he managed to lead at least seventy-five frightened women out of the factory and the fire Marshall said that these women owed the watchmen their lives.