On February 20th, 2003 in Rhode Island 230 people were injured and 100 people lost their lives in the Station Nightclub. The Station Nightclub would go on to be one of the largest losses of life in a night club to date. A live band was playing at the nightclub the evening of the fire. The club was filled far past its maximum occupancy. During the first few minutes of the band playing they used pyrotechnics as part their act. The fireworks caught the foam insulation on fire that had been installed on the walls and ceiling by the band. The fire was at first thought to be a part of the show by many in the crowed. It wasn’t until around 20 seconds after the fireworks ended that the fire rapidly grew and caught the attention of viewers and the lead sings himself who shockingly and calmly stated “Wow…. that’s not good”. Within the next minute the fire would grow rapidly producing high heat and large quantities of thick black smoke engulfing the entire stage.
By this time, the nightclubs fire alarm had been activated and dispatched the local fire department within 45 seconds of activation. The nightclub had 4 possible exits to be used, although most people used the front door exit. This is the same door they entered in the club through. The mass chaos lead people into a narrow hallway leading to the front door. The narrowing of the hallway coupled with the mass exit of people lead to many people getting trampled and inevitably the complete blocking of the exit. This resulted in a large number of the deaths and multiple injuries. By the time the fire department arrived between the 5-6 minute into the fires progression the fire was already fully developed and no additional lives could be saved. In the aftermath of the fire an investigation was launched into what started the fire. The question of how so many people could die in such a small space was at the front of many investigators’ minds.
In my research multiple code violations were noted and it has been said that if the appropriate codes were enforced, the large loss of life could have been avoided completely. Major violation included addition of foam insulation, max occupancy exceeded, blocked exits, use of fireworks inside, and lack of a fire suppression system. The nightclub itself was built in 1946 but was owned by multiple people and undergone multiple renovations. At the time the club was built it did not require a sprinkler system to be installed. The following remodels completed throughout the years would have forced the nightclub to adhere to more modern fire codes including the installation of an automatic sprinkler system. In a study performed by NIST they reconstructed the platform area of the station nightclub. It was shown that if the building was equipped with an automatic fire suppression system, the fire would have been able to be controlled.
Occupant load and egress was a primary issue during the fire. It was shown that the lack of appropriately sized exits with the appropriate capacity volume was not achieved. All occupants were not provided the amount of time needed to escape from the provided doors. This greatly contributed to the huge loss of life and countless injuries. According to codes at the time, the Station Nightclub could have held a max occupancy of 420 people. At the time of the fire it was believe that there were between 440-458 people inside the building. This well excided the occupancy limit and caused and overcrowding inside the building.As previously stated there were 4 exits in the build with one in the kitchen that would have only been known by staff or those familiar to the building. Of the 3 remaining exits most occupants exited through the main front door. To add to the already doomed situation, it was said by multiple survivors that tables and other objects blocked pathways leading to main exits. One survivor even recalled that they noticed the fire started and immediately moved to the closest emergency exit. But once at the exit they were meet by a bouncer who told them that the exit was for the band only. This is another major issue that lead to the death’s of countless people. The remaining openings used as exits during fire were 2 large windows on each side of the bar. 56%-66% of all the occupants attempted to exit through the main entrance. The main exit was a single door arrangement leading occupants into a crush scenario. It was noted that the windows themselves accounted for nearly a third of successful evacuations from the burning structure.
When researching the foam application and use of pyrotechnics on and around the stage. It was found that the foam was used to help with sound conditions, and was placed by on the walls and ceiling by the band. The pyrotechnics were also installed and used by the band to add a visual affect during the band’s performance. It was sated by the owners of the night club that they did not give the band permission to install the foam or use the pyrotechnics inside the club. These two key factors would be the fuel and competent ignition source that the fire needed to start and grow out of control so rapidly.
In conclusion if the station night club had been inspected regularly and held to the codes and standards of the last modification to the building. This great loss of life could have been completely avoided. This fire brought about change for multiple areas in fire prevention and code enforcement. These changes would not only be concerning night clubs but the addition of fire sprinkler systems to all types of structures. This fire also greatly pointed out the need for an affective and proactive fire prevention and inspection program for all community’s across America. It is extremely unfortunate that it takes events like the Station Night Club fire to bring about the needed change. To this day the Station Night Club fire is still being used as an example for the need to continue to improve our new and existing businesses.
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