Mass Moments reminds today us that on the evening of December 11, 1995 – a fire reduced Malden Mills to rubble. It was one of the worst in the state’s history. Seven hundred people were at work in the factory when, at a little past 8:00 p.m., a boiler exploded in one of the mill buildings. The explosion was so powerful that it ruptured gas mains; fire quickly engulfed the buildings. Employees fled into the streets; 33 were injured, four of them critically.
The fire was a catastrophe for the communities of Methuen and Lawrence where many of the mill’s immigrant workers lived. Malden Mills was one of the largest employers in the area. The mill was well-known for its production of Polartec, a synthetic fleece. Clothing made from lightweight and fast-wicking Polartec fleece, worn next to the skin, keeps wearers warm and dry. Owned and operated by Aaron Feuerstein and the Feuerstein family, the Malden Mills company had a longstanding reputation for being good to its employees and for being committed to the local community. People around the country and the world would come to know and admire Aaron Feuerstein when it came to light that he would continue paying his workers during reconstruction of the mill property.
The compassionate promise and decision of the mill owner Aaron Feuerstein to keep his employees on the payroll for a few months and to rebuild on the same site was based on guidance he found as he “turned to the Torah”, the book of Jewish law.
In a 60 Minutes interview he noted:
“You are not permitted to oppress the working man, because he’s poor and he’s needy, amongst your brethren and amongst the non-Jew in your community,” says Feuerstein, who spent $300 million of the insurance money and then borrowed $100 million more to build a new plant that is both environmentally friendly and worker friendly.
In the end – his commitment to social responsibility caused him to file for bankruptcy and lose control of his family business, but Feurerstein remains a legend – almost a folk hero – and the company survived though in the hands of others.
Read more here about the Malden Mills fire and the long range fall out for the mill, the employees and for Aaron Feuerstein.