Vintage: 1998: The crash of China Airlines flight 676, Taiwan
The Station nightclub fire occurred on the evening of 20 February 2003, in West Warwick, Rhode Island, United States, killing 100 people including Great White guitarist Ty Longley and injuring 230. The fire was caused by pyrotechnics set off by the tour manager of the evening's headlining band, Great White, which ignited flammable acoustic foam in the walls and ceilings surrounding the stage. The blaze reached flashover within one minute, causing all combustible materials to burn. Intense black smoke engulfed the club in two minutes. Video footage of the fire shows its ignition, rapid growth, the billowing smoke that quickly made escape impossible, and blocked egress that further hindered evacuation.
The toxic smoke, heat, and the resulting human rush toward the main exit killed 100; 230 were injured and another 132 escaped uninjured. Many of the survivors developed post-traumatic stress disorder after the event. This fire was the fourth-deadliest at a nightclub in US history and the second-deadliest in New England, surpassed by the 1942 Cocoanut Grove fire, which resulted in 492 deaths.
The fire started just seconds into the band's opening song, their 1991 Billboard Mainstream Rock hit "Desert Moon", when pyrotechnics set off by tour manager Daniel Biechele ignited flammable acoustic foam on both sides and the top centre of the drummer's alcove at the back of the stage. The pyrotechnics were gerbs, cylindrical devices that produce a controlled spray of sparks. Biechele used four gerbs set to spray sparks 4,6m for fifteen seconds. Two gerbs were at 45-degree angles, with the middle two pointing straight up. The flanking gerbs became the principal cause of the fire.
The acoustic foam was installed in two layers, with highly flammable urethane foam above polyethylene foam, the latter being difficult to ignite but releasing much more heat once ignited by the less dense urethane. Burning polyurethane foam instantly develops opaque, dark smoke along with deadly carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide gas. Inhaling this smoke only two to three times would cause rapid loss of consciousness and, eventually, death by internal suffocation.
The flames were initially thought to be part of the act (the song's music video clearly shows flames blazing around the musicians); only as the fire reached the ceiling and smoke began to bank down did people realise it was uncontrolled. Twenty seconds after the pyrotechnics ended, the band stopped playing and lead vocalist Jack Russell calmly remarked into the microphone, "Wow... that's not good." In less than a minute, the entire stage was engulfed in flames, with most of the band members and entourage fleeing for the west exit by the stage.
By this time, the nightclub's fire alarm had activated and although there were four possible exits, most people headed for the front door through which they had entered. The ensuing crowd crush in the narrow hallway leading to that exit quickly blocked the exit completely and resulted in numerous deaths and injuries among the patrons and staff. A total of 462 people were in attendance, even though the club's official licensed capacity was 404. One hundred died and about half of the survivors were injured, either from burns, smoke inhalation, thermal trauma or trampling.
Among those who died in the fire were Great White's lead guitarist, Ty Longley and the show's MC, WHJY DJ Mike "The Doctor" Gonsalves. There is reason to believe that Longley and Gonsalves tried to salvage equipment during the early stage of the fire and lost valuable time to escape before dense, toxic smoke made breathing near impossible at zero visibility. Longley is believed to have initially made it out of the building but then re-entered in an attempt to rescue his guitar. Furthermore, a number of survivors later stated that a bouncer stopped people trying to escape via the stage exit, stating that the door was "for the band only."
Following the tragedy, Governor Donald Carcieri declared a moratorium on pyrotechnic displays at venues that hold fewer than 300 people.
Numerous violations of existing codes contributed to the calamity, triggering an immediate effort to strengthen fire code protections. Within weeks of the disaster, an emergency meeting was called for the National Fire Protection Association committee handling code for "assembly occupancies". Based upon its work, Tentative Interim Amendments (TIAs) were issued for the national standard "Life Safety Code" (NFPA 101), in July 2003. The TIAs required automatic fire sprinklers in all existing nightclubs and similar locations that accommodate more than 100 occupants and all new locations in the same categories. The TIAs also required additional crowd manager personnel, among other things. These TIAs were subsequently incorporated into the 2006 edition of NFPA 101, along with additional exit requirements for new nightclub occupancies. It is left for each state or local jurisdiction to legally enact and enforce the current code changes.
As a result of this and other similar incidents, fire chiefs, fire marshals and inspectors require trained crowd managers to comply with the International Fire Code, NFPA-101 Life Safety Code, NFPA-1 Fire Code and many local ordinances that address safety in public-assembly occupancies. However, fire professionals have few choices about what training should be provided and training programs are continually updated to incorporate new technologies as well as lessons learned from actual fire experiences.
Two years to the day after the fire, band members Russell and Kendall, along with Great White's attorney, Ed McPherson, appeared on CNN's Larry King Live with three survivors of the fire and the father of Longley, to discuss how their lives had changed since the incident.
On 16 January 2013, Jack Russell scheduled a benefit show in February 2013, commemorating the tenth anniversary of the fire, and announced that all proceeds would go towards the Station Fire Memorial Foundation. Upon hearing of the event, the Foundation asked that its name be removed, stating the animosity still felt by many of the survivors and surviving families. Jack Russell's management has stated that the show would be renamed and that the proceeds would go to another charity.
Makeshift memorial at the site of The Station nightclub
The site of the fire was cleared, and a multitude of crosses were placed as memorials, left by loved ones of the deceased. On 20 May 2003, nondenominational services began to be held at the site of the fire for a number of months. Access remains open to the public and memorial services are held each 20 February.
A permanent memorial at the site of the fire has been erected and named the Station Fire Memorial Park. In August 2016, the site was reported to have been being used as a PokeStop in Pokémon Go, to uproar from victims' families.
In June 2003, the Station Fire Memorial Foundation (SFMF) was formed with the purpose of purchasing the property, to build and maintain a memorial. In September 2012, the owner of the land, Ray Villanova, donated the site to the SFMF. By April 2016, $1,65 million of the $2 million fundraising goal had been achieved and construction of the Station Fire Memorial Park had commenced. The memorial dedication ceremony took place on 21 May 2017.
Source: Rolling Stone, Wikipedia