Life is Precious #6 - The Station Nightclub Fire

in #life4 months ago

As the band Great White took to the stage at The Station Nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island, little did they know, it would be a night to remember. Thursday, February 20, 2003, would go down as the most memorable day in this American band's history. The dawn of the new day would see a death toll of 100 dead and 230 wounded, sounding more like a statistic from a war zone, than a fateful evening of rock music.

The music video for the opening song Desert Moon show the band members performing amid the flames in an eerie premonition of the fire 12 years in their future.As the group opened their set on that fateful day, the sounds of Desert Moon would be the last song many people would hear. But of course, no one knew any of that when the popular band took the stage, including tour manager Daniel Biechele, who'd ordered the pyrotechnics which started the blaze.

The source

Unbeknownst to many, the double layers of acoustic foam contained a very flammable urethane panel covered by a second polyethylene panel which would end up producing toxic smoke with deadly consequences. In the audience was cameraman Brian Butler of WPRI TV out of Providence, RI. It's thanks to him that we have evidence of how the fire started and the chaos that ensued.

The report that a local fire warden when being interviewed about the deaths at the E2 nightclub stampede in Chicago just a few days earlier said: "It's unlikely something like that would happen here in Rhode Island." Cast an eerie pall on the aftermath of the disaster. 21 people died in a rush to the exit doors after security guards used pepper spray to end a fight. Over 1000 people were trying to get out at once. This resulted in a pileup of bodies over six feet high, trapping people underneath. Many of them were crushed to death at the stairwell in front of the entrance doors.

But the only thing on Butler's mind at that moment was the music, that is, until the spray of pyro ignited the foam behind the stage causing lead singer Jack Russell to say: "Wow, that's not good." This would be the understatement of the evening and within 20 seconds of the start of the show, Brian realized it was time to leave. But not many others did... Thinking the flames were part of the act, a number of fans stood watching the spectacle, costing them precious time in which to escape.

A way of escape blocked

The nearest exit close to the stage was for band members only and a burly security guard blocked anyone else from trying to use it. The guard was paid for his services in beer... Yes, you heard right. There were three other exits: one at the end of the kitchen, the main bar exit door on the other side of the wall and the front door at the end of a narrow entrance hallway. In the ensuing dark, you had to navigate these obstacles and the panic of the crowd in order to reach safety. To make it out of the front door, one not only had to move towards the back, but you also had to know to head left, to the exit. However, this would choose to be a dangerous choice that night. And if all of that wasn't enough, it's been reported by attendees that one of the exits was chained shut...

Let's return to Mr. Butler's video as he's one of the first people to realize the peril he was in. If you watch as the seconds tick off, you can see that he's still filming while backing out of the club. At the one minute mark in the video, we hear the anguished cries of "Where's my boyfriend!" from one of the female clubgoers. Butler makes it out and runs around the side of the building to see if anyone needs help. When he returns, he sees a growing stack of people trapped at the front door with thick black smoke billowing out of the club.

Others who have managed to escape, return to try and free some of those that are trapped before the flames reach the entrance. Matt Darby helped twelve people escape, losing his own life in the process. At six minutes, what looks like a burning man is seen running from the conflagration at the front door. As the flames rise higher, Brian can't escape the knowledge of the human souls that still remain out front, just beyond the reach of safety...

The survivors

Nine minutes after the fire began, with huge flames piercing the night sky, the feeling that anyone could survive inside seems almost impossible. Robert Feeney was one such person who somehow managed to crawl forward to an opening which led to the way out. Timothy Cormier is the man seen in the video trying to rescue others. He was able to pull two people to safety, before being pulled away himself. His father can be heard saying "Timmy, come here!" on the video.

The video contains disturbing scenes, viewer discretion is advised:

Mike Vargas was near the stage when the fire broke out and almost made it to the entrance before being pushed to the floor in the stampede. Falling to the bottom of the pile of people on his side near an air pocket, is actually what helped save him from death. Mike knew that laying on his stomach or back, would cause him to suffocate, while laying on his side gave him an opportunity to breathe. The others around him creating a cocoon of protection from the flames which ended up taking the lives of those around him. For an hour and a half, he laid there pinned into position before being rescued by firefighters.

The aftermath

Investigations revealed that the deadly foam panels were installed in order to cut down on noise complaints about loud music coming from the club. One problem is that they were not flame-retardant. The foam was also painted black in order to blend into the background, this made for an even more flammable source to feed the fire. A sprinkler system was not installed in case of fire and the personnel had no safety training about what to do in the event there was one. All of this combined to produce a deadly hydrogen cyanide gas which helped cause a rapid loss of consciousnesses and a quick-spreading fire.

Is polyurethane foam in your home or car?

Combustible polyurethane foam is also known as "solid gasoline..."

It can be found in furniture cushioning, carpet padding, mattresses and other products. The issue is that all-natural furnishings cost more, so thrifty consumers may opt to save money without realizing the risk to their safety. Natural products burn slower and without releasing the toxic gases produced by items containing polyurethane foam.

What's ironic about the situation is that Brian Butler was there that night making a video about nightclub safety. In the end, he got a chance to document a tragedy that we will all learn something from. Hydrogen cyanide produced from the combustion of the exterior panels, was also a factor at the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, staged a recreation of the Station fire. While I believe the actual blaze spread far quicker, what struck me was watching the thermal layer descend in a cloud of thick, black smoke. Watch:

Without sprinklers

With sprinklers

When I was in Germany, I noticed a balcony which wrapped around the outside upper floors of our classrooms. Taking some quick pictures and asking the staff about them, I was informed that they were there as a way of escape in case of a fire or school shooting. This way we wouldn't be trapped inside like sitting ducks and instead have a chance to get out.




The takeaway from all of this it to have situational awareness at all times. We don't want to live a life of fear, but taking note of things now, may end up saving lives later. Our prayers go out to the souls we lost that day and those that suffered physical and mental trauma. We're inspired by the people who helped someone else along the way. Life truly is precious...

Below is the actual video taken the night of the fire. It contains disturbing accounts as it actually happened. Viewer discretion is advised.


NIST Video Report of the Technical Investigation of The Station Nightclub Fire

Report of the Technical Investigation of The Station Nightclub Fire (NIST NCSTAR 2), Volume 1 PDF

Report of the Technical Investigation of The Station Nightclub Fire: Appendices (NIST NCSTAR 2), Volume 2 PDF

photo credit: 1, 2
video credit1, 2, 3, 4, 5

If you liked this post, please check out the rest of the series:


I remember both events as that was our clubbing and concert days. The E2 situation with chained doors was and still to this day is common. Nobody will ever admit it, but doors are chained shut at big events where they are worried about people getting in for free or slipping weapons in via a side door after passing security. Can't speak to other parts of the country, but have seen this in Chicago as recently as last year. I called 911 and reported it and quickly the chains were removed, but doubt anything happened to the promoter of the event.

I never saw the whole video showing how quickly the entire building was engulfed in flames. That was truly shocking as to how fast a fire could take over a building like that. Will say for all the issues I take with Chicago and the surrounding suburbs with being a royal pain the ass for businesses to deal with that fire shows partly why their fire codes are so hard to work within.

What surprised me during my research, was that they were filming at The Station that night in response to the E2 fire. Almost as if to say "look how safe our club is!"

I went to Walmart yesterday and found some of that foam in the form of bedding. The fire warnings on the bottom report how oxygen is removed when these combust. You basically pass out leaving you a sitting duck for the fire. That is why I wanted people to see this post. That foam is everywhere.

You basically pass out leaving you a sitting duck for the fire. That is why I wanted people to see this post. That foam is everywhere.

It's horrible that in the name of saving a few dollars companies put crap like this on the market.

Tragic indeed! Some years back, a similar incident also happened to one of the bars locally. There were a number of casualties too, mostly graduating students. How sad indeed! 😐😐

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This is why we need to learn as much about fire safety as we can. In the NIST video above, I picture all of those people standing up trying to escape. They were breathing in that toxic black smoke, when there was a clearer space near the floor.

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Wow, I didn't know about this case. What a tragedy.
There was a fire at a festival here in Portugal, not too long ago. Fortunately, no one got hurt. Only a lot of cars went straight to the junkyard.

Thanks for your article!

It's good everyone got out ok. I was reminded about this when I read about the Ghost Ship fire in California. I didn't just want to write a history of the event, but hopefully to raise awareness of how flammable this foam is, while also sharing fire safety tips.

Yeah. Here the problem was other. Someone left a burning cigar inside a car or on the ground. Since it was extremely hot that day it caught fire, which quickly spread through the parking lot.

This was the result:


Very sad to hear about it. Hearing a lot of bad news these days.

Very sad to hear
About it. Hearing a lot
Of bad news these days.

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I remember all this. It was a pretty crazy time when we heard of all these fires. Thanks for reminding us.

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