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Many agree to the idiom that fire is a good service but a bad master. It is true that many have enjoyed the services of fire while very few have lived to testify how fire looks like as a master. There have quite a number of tragedies that have come as a result of fire. However, urban fire fires are the most in number due to the massive loss of life and property. These fires enlist destruction in ships, mines and individual structures. These tragedies have been outlined throughout history and the number of fatalities and survivors determining the rating of the fire. Many authors have endeavored to write tales about several of these arson tragedies. Reports indicate that many of the notable nightclub fires at both indoor and outdoor venues involve pyrotechnic failures. One such tragedy is the Station Nightclub Fire that took place on a Thursday February 20th in the year 2003. This was in West Warwick, Rhode Island. According to reports, this was one of the major arson tragedies that have ever happened in a nightclub in the 21st century. As a matter of fact, it was rated the fourth deadliest nightclub fire in the United States of America and the second deadliest in New England (Grosshandler 32). The Cocoanut Grove fire that happened in 1942 only surpassed the fatalities. The latter tragedy resulted in 492 deaths. Several writers took upon themselves to tell the story of what happened in this arson tragedy. One such record of the tale is The Killer Show: The Station Nightclub Fire. This book describes that night’s events as deadliest rock concert that ever happened in the history of America.
Description of the Fire
This book authored by John Barylick. The book was the first of its kind to make a comprehensive detail of the order of events that led up to the arson. The author also outlines the conflagration itself and the burdening hunt for evidence to pinpoint the individuals responsible for the tragedy. The author presents the book as some sort of justice plea for the victims of the fire. According to Barylick (10), that very night at the roadhouse, in the few minutes it usually takes to play a hard rock standard, the fate of many of the lovers of rock and roll together with the unsuspecting nightclub patrons was determined with awful certainty (Barylick 12). Barylick (15) indicates that the arson was instigated when the Great White band lighted up pyrotechnics. Great White was a heavy metal band that was famous in the 1980s. The members of the band had lit flammable polyurethane. This was in the form of an egg crate foam that was meant to insulate sound on the club’s walls. The rest happened in a matter of minutes. The great speed of the fire that caused an intense black smoke that engulfed the entire club vicinity in about 5 minutes (barylick 12). The book gives a record of a video footage that detailed that particular starting point. The video showed the fire’s ignition, fast and rapid growth together with the black intense smoke. This black billowing smoke made escape nearly impossible. This was coupled with the blockage of the exit points that hindered evacuation of people who were in the building. According to the book, the main causes of death were the smoke that was toxic, massive heat and the stampede of the great number of people that scampered towards the exits.
In ten minutes, about 96 people had met their end. This was along with the 200 more that were injured as a result. These numbers rate the arson as a great catastrophe. The overall death toll was determined three months after the ordeal. Reports indicate that approximately 100 people perished as a result of the fire in the Station Nightclub on the Rhode Island. Due to the nature of investigation done by John Barylick, he was able to give step by step details of the happenings. A survivor testifies that, the fire began just seconds after the band had begun singing their first song. Daniel Biechele lighted the pyrotechnics. He was the tour manager of the band. The acoustic foams that were highly flammable were on both sides and above the alcove of the drummers that was at the back stage. According to Barylick (23), burning polyurethane foam instantly develops opaque, aggressive, dark smoke along with deadly carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide gas when burning (Barylick 23). He says that inhalation of this sort of gas would cause instant unconsciousness and death by internal suffocation eventually. This only takes 2 and 3 times of inhalation. The flames were first taken as part of the show but the smoke and fire on the ceiling later indicated that it was not controlled. A minute after this realization, the stage was full of flames. This caused the members of the bands and their entourage fled the stage towards the exit on the west. It was high time the club’s fire alarm was activated. This was when the audience fled for exits. Although the club had four exits, the people fled towards the front door. This caused a stampede that caused a crash in the narrow hallway that led to the front door. The crash blocked the entire exit and resulted to deaths to both the staff and the patrons. Records indicate that the club hosted 462 people at the time though the club had been licensed to host only 404 people. There were claims that a certain bouncer had stopped people from exiting via the exit door claiming that it was for band members only.
The records is a near accurate record of the happenings of that day. This was because Barylick was for seven years the lead counsel in the investigation and prosecution wrongfully death and personal injury cases arising from The Station Fire (Barylick 1). Barylick (35) has been a practicing lawyer in Rhode Island since the year 1977 to date. However, it was not precise on the statistics of the injuries. The accurate record number of injured people was 230. This is opposed to Barylick’s record that stated that 200 people got injured. It also does not include the actual number of uninjured survivors that was 132. It was not all about physical injuries however. Most of the survivors suffered posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of the psychological trauma (Grosshandler 8). Other records indicate that there were other notable people who perished in the fire. Among those who died as a result of the fire were Jack Russell; Great Whites lead guitarist, Ty Longley, and the shows emcee, DJ Mike Gonsalves (Grosshandler 9). There are a few reasons that might have caused the deaths of these band members. Some say that Longley had exited the building at first but later went in to pick his guitar. It was also recorded that Gonsalves wasted a lot of valuable time in salvaging band equipment during the early stages of the fire. This enabled the raging fire to create a dense smoke and that created difficulties in breathing at that zero-visibility situation.
Influence of the Built Environment
There were not very many elements of the build environment that influenced the events of the day. However, because of the age and size of the building, the building had been exempted from the sprinkler system requirement. The building had undergone occupancy transformation. The building had been transformed from a restaurant to a club (Grosshandler 10). This particular change made the law exemption invalid (Grosshandler 12). Fire inspectors never realized this detail. The absence of the sprinkler system made fire control impossible. Another factor was the number and size of the exit points. Another built environment aspect was the polyurethane foam in the building. In order to solve the noise complaints from neighbors of the establishment, the owners resolved to use polyurethane form for sound insulation. The foam was placed under blocks on the walls and the ceiling. This form was described as solid gasoline since it was the one that enabled the fire spread rapidly.
The occurrences of that day instigated changes in design in such buildings. There were also set regulations on recreation and entertainment buildings. Buildings nowadays are regulated to have emergency exits and keep a controlled number of people inside. The hallways and doors are larger and wide. Due to these practices, we feel safer in buildings today. This book is a perfect recommendation to entertainment building owners and the public. It has a detailed explanation of what really happened in the Station Nightclub Fire (Grosshandler 18).
Barylick, John. Killer Show: The Station Nightclub Fire, America’s Deadliest Rock Concert. Hanover: University Press of New England, 2012. Internet resource.
Grosshandler, William Lytle, et al. Report of the technical investigation of the station nightclub fire. Gaithersburg, MD: National Institute of Standards and Technology, 2005.
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