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Twenty Years Later: Remembering the Station Nightclub Fire


n November 1942, 492 people died in the Cocoanut Grove Fire. This tragedy was the catalyst for significant reforms to fire codes for places of public assembly and stricter enforcement of these codes. Sixty years later, on February 20, 2003, New England and the nation received a sobering reminder of what can happen when building owners and operators fail to follow building codes as well as when code enforcement fails to enforce codes properly. The deaths of 100 people at the Station Nightclub was the result of these and other factors. The fire was the fourth deadliest nightclub fire in American History.


The Station

The Station was a nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island. The 4484 square foot building was built in 1946. It later was converted into a nightclub. In 2000 the club was purchase by brothers Michael and Jeffrey Derderian. The building did not have sprinklers. The investigation after the fire revealed that the building should have been required to have sprinklers installed when it was turned into a nightclub.

The Station was a venue for live music and hosted concerts by many heavy metal bands. The Station had been inspected by local code enforcement in November and December 2002. The November inspection resulted in nine minor violations. No violations were cited in the December inspection. Both inspections failed to cite the use of flammable polyurethane foam for soundproofing on the walls and ceiling around the stage.

The Fire

On the evening of Thursday, February 20, 2003, the Station’s headliner was the 80s metal band, Great White. More than 460 people were in the building at 11:08 p.m. when Great White took the stage. The crowd exceeded the building’s permitted capacity of 404. Great White’s show included a pyrotechnic display. When the band launched into their first song, the first pyrotechnic elements started. These were “gerbs,” which are fireworks that produce a fountain of sparks. These were set to burn for 15 seconds. Almost immediately, the sparks ignited the polyurethane foam soundproofing. About 20 seconds after the fireworks ended, the band stopped playing as the fire quickly took hold of the polyurethane foam and black smoke began to bank down from the ceiling. Within a minute, the entire stage was engulfed in flames. Less than 40 seconds after the fire started, the club’s fire alarm sounded.

The start of the fire, and the next six minutes of horror were caught on video by a cameraman from a Providence television station. Ironically, he was there to get footage for a news piece on nightclub safety in the wake of a nightclub stampede in Chicago that had killed 21 people on February 17.

Initially, there was no panic and people started heading towards the exits. Unfortunately, most of the crowd went towards the main entrance to exit the building and did not attempt to use the three other exits. The design of the main entrance forced people to push through an intermediate door, which opened into a small foyer where the main doors were located. A bottleneck quickly formed at the main entrance. The foyer proved to be a trap for members of the now panicked crowd. The lights went out within a minute. The fire flashed over within 90 seconds of ignition.

The Response

The first 911 call was within a minute of the start of the fire. The West Warwick Fire Department responded with four engines and its tower ladder. West Warwick Engine 4 arrived on scene within about four minutes of the first 911 call. By that time, the building was fully involved and flames were roaring out the front door. This rapid response was for naught. As with other fires with great loss of life, death came quicker than the fire department ever could.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) conducted a recreation of the fire in the controlled conditions of a lab. This confirmed that the rapidly burning polyurethane foam soundproofing took just 90 seconds to fill the building with toxic and superheated smoke. NIST also conducted several computer simulations as part of its investigation. According to one of these, temperatures in the building at five feet above the floor exceeded 800 degrees within 90 seconds after the start of the fire.

According to the NIST report, “Given the hazardous mix of materials in The Station and the lack of installed sprinklers, nothing that the fire department could have done that night would have saved the building from the fast growing fire.”

A minute after the arrival of the first engine, the Warwick Task Force was activated calling seven additional units under mutual aid from the City of Warwick. Within ten minutes of the arrival of the first engine, a mass casualty incident was declared and the Rhode Island Mass Casualty Disaster Plan was activated. Additional mutual aid was summoned pursuant to the Southern New England Fire Emergency Assistance Plan. This included units from Warwick, Cranston and Coventry. Approximately 60 ambulances responded. They transported 186 victims to several hospitals over the course of two hours. The total response included 583 fire, police and EMS responders.

The Aftermath

The sun on February 21 rose over the charred ruins of what was The Station. At that point it was unknown how many victims would be found. During the recovery effort, 31 victims were be found in the front entrance and lobby. Just inside the second set of doors, 27 more bodies were found. As the recovery efforts continues through the morning the death toll rose steadily. The last body was recovered by noon. By the end of the day the official death toll was 96. More than 230 were injured. Of these, four would die from their injuries bringing the death toll to 100. Over the next four days officials identified all of the remains of the victims.

In December 2003, the club’s owners and the tour manager who set off the pyrotechnics were indicted for involuntary manslaughter. Great White's tour manager, Daniel Michael Biechele, pleaded guilty in February 2006, three months before his trial was scheduled to begin. He was sentenced to four years in prison. Biechele sent handwritten letters to the families of each of the 100 victims before his release from prison in 2008. In September 2006, Michael and Jeffrey Derderian changed their pleas to no contest. Michael Derderian was sentenced to four years in prison. Jeffrey Derderian was ordered to perform 500 hours of community service.

The scope of the tragedy was much larger than the death toll. One-hundred families lost a loved one. Most all of the survivors, even those who were not injured physically, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Today, many still suffer from PTSD. First responders also were impacted deeply by the terrible loss of life.

The Station Fire was the deadliest event in Rhode Island history. This tragedy brought together the local community and the State. The families of the victims of the fire and many of the survivors worked together to raise funds for a proper memorial for the victims of the fire. In May 2017, the Station Fire Memorial Park was dedicated on the site of the fire. The park is open to the public.

In memory of those who lost their lives on February 20, 2003,

at the Station Nightclub Fire.

Louis S. Alves - Kevin Anderson

Stacie J. Angers - Christopher Arruda

Eugene Avilez - Tina Ayer

Mary H. Baker - Thomas A. Barnett

Laureen M. Beauchaine - Steven Thomas Blom

William Christopher Bonardi, III - Kristine Carbone

William W. Cartwright - Mike Cordier

Alfred Carmino Crisostomi - Robert Croteau

Lisa D'Andrea - Matthew P. Darby

Dina Ann DeMaio - Rachael Florio DePietro

Albert DiBonaventura - Christina DiRienzo

Kevin J. Dunn - Lori Durante

Edward Everett Ervanian - Charline E. Fick

Thomas Fleming - Mark A. Fontaine

Daniel J. Fredrickson - Michael A. Fresolo

James C. Gahan - Melvin Gerfin Jr.

Laura L. Gillett - Michael J. Gonsalves

James F. Gooden Jr. - Derek Gray

Scott C. Greene - Scott Griffith

Jude Henault - Andrew Hoban

Abbie L. Hoisington - Michael Hoogasian

Sandy Hoogasian - Carlton L. Howorth III

Eric J. Hyer - Derek Brian Johnson

Lisa Kelly - Tracy King

Michael Joseph Kulz - Keith Lapierre

Dale L. Latulippe - Stephen Libera

John Longiaru - Ty Longley

Judith Manzo - Andrea Louise Mancini

Keith Anthony Mancini - Steve Mancini

Thomas Marion Jr. - Jeffrey W. Martin

Tammy Mattera-Housa - Kristen McQuarrie

Thomas Medeiros - Samuel J. Miceli Jr.

Donna Mitchell - Leigh Ann Moreau

Ryan M. Morin - Jason Morton

Beth Mosczynski - Katherine O'Donnell

Nicholas O'Neill - Matthew James Pickett

Christopher Prouty - Jeffrey Rader

Theresa Rakoski - Robert Reisner

Walter Rich - Donald Roderiques

Tracey Romanoff - Joseph Rossi

Bridget Sanetti - Becky Shaw

Mitchell C. Shubert - Dennis Smith

Victor Stark - Benjamin J. Suffoletto Jr.

Shawn Patrick Sweet - Jason Sylvester

Sarah Jane Telgarsky - Kelly Vieira

Kevin R. Washburn - Everett Thomas Woodmansee, III

Robert Young


The images used in this piece may include copyrighted materials. These are being used under the Fair Use Doctrine for nonprofit educational purposes.


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