At five minutes to 9, four hours after the fire in the Triangle Waist Company factory was discovered, the first living person was found in the debris. He was Hyman Meshel, 21 years old, and single, of 332 East Fifteenth Street, who worked on the eighth floor and was on that floor when the fire threw the garment workers of the waist company, by whom he was employed, into a panic.
The rescue party found Meshel crazed by fright and blackened by soot in the southwest corner of the basement. He was sitting helplessly on the elevator cable drum, with his body immersed almost to the neck in water, which was slowly rising in the basement. The flesh of the palms of his hands had been torn from the bones by his sliding down the steel cable in the elevator, and his knuckles and forearms were fill of glass splinters from beating his way through the glass door of the elevator shaft.
Ambulance Surgeon Flanagan rushed him to St. Vincent's Hospital, where it was said that he might recover if pneumonia did not set in. Meshel was weak and chilled from his four hours' immersion in the cold water of the basement. His legs were paralyzed, and it was a difficult task to restore the circulation.
About 8:45 Battalion Chief Worth and several firemen who were working on the ground floor of the burned building near the Greene Street entrance, heard faint cries for help. They listened intently, and decided that the sounds came from below them. The firemen got a lantern, and under Chief Worth organized themselves into a rescue party.
Who the Rescuers Were.
The men in the group who started out to rescue the unknown prisoner consisted of Firemen Wolff, Boucher, and Levy of Truck 5, and Firemen Rubino and Connell of Truck13. When they entered the basement led by Chief Worth, they found themselves splashing in water up to their knees. Their lanterns proved of little value, and they were obliged to grope their way over a great many obstacles and among a number of floating boxes.
As they groped about they set up concerted shouts with the view of learning the prisoners location by his answers. They finally located his cries as coming from the southwest corner of the building, to which they made their way. In their haste to reach the victim they knocked down three partitions and battered in an iron door in the cellar.
When they reached the main elevator shaft in the southwest corner of the basement they saw a man's head just above water directly above the location of the cable drum on which the elevator cables were wound. A little above the man's head was the floor of the elevator of the building.
The man's eyes were bulging form his head, and he whimpered monotonously like a timid and spirit-broken animal. His face was swollen from heat and looked charred as if it had been scorched and the rubbed with soot.
"Get up, we've come to get you!" shouted Chief Worth.
Victim Unable to Rise.
The man did not reply, though the message was repeated by Chief Worth and echoed by his companions. At last the firemen seized him bodily and carried him out of the building g over the same tortuous route by which they had entered.
It was not till he had been taken to the hospital, place in his bed, his wounds treated and his body massaged that Meshel was able to give any account whatever of how he had reached his strange position.
He said he had been on the eighth floor when the fire started and that he had run over to the elevator shaft. There he beat in the glass upper portion of the shaft door with his fists and swung himself over the wooden lower half into the shaft, going down hand over hand for several floors on the cable, though in the process his flesh was torn from the bone. Just before he got to the bottom he became faint from pain and exertion and dropped onto the roof of the elevator.
When he regained consciousness he said he had to break his way out of the shaft again. He said that a man or several men and a woman had fallen onto the top of the elevator down the shaft near him, and that he was afraid he would be killed if he remained where he was. His statement to this effect had not yet been verified by the firemen.
Driven Back by the Flames.
Once out of the shaft Meshel said he was driven back into the elevator well by the flames all about him, and kept himself under water as much as possible to avoid being burned. The heat, he said, was unbearable.
As the water rose in the basement Meshel began to fear, he said, that he would be drowned, and he climbed up on top of the cable drum and sat there, with his back braced against the wall, while the water crept slowly up to his neck. The cold so paralyzed him then that he was unable to move, and the fear that after suffering so much he would be drowned made him semi-conscious.
After Meshel had told his story he became irrational again and shouted, "My sister! My sister!" When quieted he explained that his sister Annie had been working the same floor with him, and he had not seen her in the group of panicstriken shirtwaist operatives when the shouts of fire were taken up in his floor and the mad rush for the windows began.
It was not known at the hospital what had become of his sister, though efforts were made to bring Meshel some encouraging news.