Station club fire that occurred in Rhode Island in February 2003 stands through today as the fourth-deadliest nightclub fire in the history of the United States. In total, a hundred people were killed, roughly 230 were injured and another 132 people were able to escape unharmed. The fire and its aftermath was the result of a perfect storm of the irresponsible use of pyrotechnics, very flammable acoustic foam and the layout/exit structure of the club as compared to where people ran when it was clear that something was very wrong. The cause of the fire, the safety issues at hand and how the situation could or should have been corrected will all be explained. In addition, the procedures, policies and procedures to lower the possibility of a similar event happening in the future will also be gone through.
Summary & Analysis
The fire occurred at approximately 11:07 PM EST on February 20th, 2003, a smidge more than ten years ago. The night club in question was called "The Station" and it was located on Cowesett Avenue in West Warwick, Rhode Island. The band Great White had just started performing their opening song. Some pyrotechnic devices known as gerbs, which shoot sparks in the direction pointed at by the opening of the gerb, went off. Some sound-deadening material surrounding the stage on both sides was ignited by the sparks. The dual-layer foam included urethane, which is very flammable (CBS Boston, 2013).
At first, the crowd stopped and stared at the fire as if it was part of the act. At one point, the lead singer noted that the fire was "not good" and the stage was soon engulfed in flames as the band members escaped off the end of the stage. There were four exits in the club but the vast majority of the club coalesced towards the main entrance. This caused a bottleneck as there was a narrow hallway between the entrance and the area where the crowd was. Much of the deaths were due to burns, smoke inhalation or from being trampled in the rush to get out of the theater (Belluck & Zeilbauer, 2003).
There was a number of contributing factors to the fire. First, the club had at least fifty more people in it than it should have. The fire rating for the club put people capacity at 404 but there was more than 460 people in the club. The second factor was that too many people went for the main entrance rather than the three other exits as well. That, in combination with the narrow entry for the main entrance, led to much of the trampling. The dead were actually scattered throughout the club but the crush to get out of the main door led to many of the deaths (Augustine, 2013).
The third main factor that caused the deadliness of the fire was the use of pyrotechnics so close and so long a time entirely too close to the sound-deadening material that was very flammable. The other layer of the foam, made of polyethylene, was not as flammable but that substance burns at very high temperatures if/when it is ignited. Needless to say, both layers of the foam as well as the stage and the broader nightclub all went up in smoke quite quickly. The engulfing of the stage took less than a minute overall and the mass panic ensued in less than twenty seconds when the music stopped and everyone made a dash for the exits. In addition to being around the stage, the foam lined much of the ceiling as well which just led to a chain reaction as each section of foam simply ignited the next thus engulfing the club (Bidgood, 2012).
To circle back just a bit, another aggravating factor was that one of the exits, the same one that most of the band members were able to escape out of (one of the guitarists died in the fire) was blocked by a bouncer with the reason given that it was for the band alone to use. Another related factor was that the building should have had a fire sprinkler system but did not. The building, prior to being a night club, was a restaurant. As a restaurant, the club was not subject to the sprinkler requirement but that changed the second it was changed to a night club. However, city regulators apparently never caught that and the club's infrastructure was never updated. Also, the foam that was used was not publicly available and should not have been used for the purpose that it was (O'Connor, 2013).
There are several things that should be done in the future and should have been done in advance of this fire occurring. First, any bouncers or security should be mandated by policy and law and get off their high horse about the public not using the doors in the event of a fire or other emergency. The bouncer who blocked off one of the doors should have been prosecuted along with the night club owners and Great White's manager for what was done. Second, any enclosed club or restaurant should have a fire sprinkler system as well as marked exits that are easy to identify and see. Third, entrance ways should not be blocked by small highways. Keeping the area enclosed is understandable, but a row of doors or an open concept in general should be required or, as an alternative, it should have a major effect on how many people are permitted in the club at once (ProvidenceJournal.com, 2013).
Next, no club should be allowed to set off pyrotechnics unless they are explicitly granted to do so by the relevant regulatory officials and this should only be granted if the surrounding sound deadening and other materials are flame-proof enough to allow for the safe use of pyrotechnics. Such certifications should be very hard to attain and should generally never be allowed to be given to small clubs with limited capacity and/or compromised ability to quickly exit. On top of that, any band manager or other person that will be involved in setting off pyrotechnics should have approval in writing from the club, in addition to the certification, to use the pyrotechnics or they should never be used (CBS Boston, 2013).
Going further, exceeding the capacity of the club should be avoided like the plague and punishments for exceeding capacity should be very harsh. The headcount of the employees should be factored in before selling tickets and the sum of the tickets sold and the headcount of the staff should never exceed the maximum population capacity in the club. In short, the Station fire was a freak incident and was the culmination of several terrible factors happening at the same time, but the fire was still entirely preventable. If the exits had been easier to navigate and/or not blocked by obtuse goons, the amount of deaths would have been less to minimal. If the club had a sprinkler system, less lives would have been lost. If the pyrotechnics were not put within range of the foam, the fire probably wouldn't have happened (CBS Boston, 2013).
The appropriate materials, rules and procedures were in place but they were not followed by the band, the club owners, the club operators, or the regulatory employees. The city could easily be justified to be a co-defendant for any criminal or civil action because they should have shut down the club the second they realized there was not the mandated fire sprinkler system. This is not to say the people in the audience couldn't have been a little more proactive. The author of this report knows that if the foam went up in flames and the author was in the club, the very first thing to do would be to get the hell out of there (CBS Boston, 2013).
There certainly should have been criminal and civil actions brought against the club, and there was. The club operators and the band manager who set off the pyrotechnics were charged but it should not have stopped with them. It is true that this would not bring back the dead but a lot of people dropped the proverbial ball with this tragedy and everyone who missed their responsibilities should suffer at least some sort of penalty. It is easy enough for the government to point fingers and assign blame, but they were partially culpable as well. Perhaps a little less money spent on issuing nickel and dime parking tickets and more time on real safety issues that can (and did, in this case) get people killed should be a much higher priority (CBS Boston, 2013).
It is important for club owners and operators to be responsible. Anytime there is anything involved that can or will involve flames or sparks, it has to be ensured that no one will be put in danger as a result of a flashy show. Doing such pyrotechnics in open arenas or in empty fields is…