Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Station nightclub fire: The complete 10th anniversary series

THE STATION NIGHTCLUB: Forged by Fire - Ten years after

For links to installments as they are published, see menu at bottom. 

Click here for a video and essay on the meaning of the fire, a decade later. 

Read 100 obituaries, leave messages in the guest books. 

I will honor the Station Family at Pecha Kucha, 8 p.m., Feb. 27, at Spot Providence. Please join us.


A best friend of someone who died in the Station fire ten years ago this month asked me: Why is The Providence Journal publishing a 12-day tenth-anniversary series, with dozens of stories, photos, video and extensive online features? Won't such coverage only cause more hurt?

These are valid questions.

The answer from me, one of the team of more than 20 writers, photographers, editors and others who have produced the series that started Sunday, Feb. 10, and runs through Thursday, Feb. 21, is first to acknowledge that some of our readers and viewers, perhaps many, will experience and re-experience painful emotions. By their very nature, anniversaries of loss prompt memory and reflection, regardless of whether the media is involved, but media unquestionably can magnify the emotional impact.

We therefore ensured that the The Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals would arrange for crisis counselors who participated at the Family Center ten years ago to be available Monday through Friday through the month of February, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The number is 401-403-4315. This information will appear every day of the print-edition series, and continually online.

But there had to be higher purpose to undertake what we have with such intensity. And there is. Two purposes, actually.

First and foremost, we honor the dead and their families and friends. We acknowledge the suffering of survivors. We offer everyone touched by the fire our good thoughts and prayers. We have offered this from the start the way we at The Journal do: with our coverage, which began on Feb. 21, 2003, and has continued into 2013 with literally thousands of stories. We have been sensitive, not sensationalistic.

Second, we must never forget. And a tenth-anniversary reflection has great power to remind, again.

We must never forget because this was a tragedy that could have been avoided. Many acts of commission and omission conspired to kill 100, injure more than 200, and affect thousands more, many of them forever. Every act was a conscious choice by people with responsibility to ensure safety.

The Providence Journal has examined each of these choices in detail over the last ten years, and we revisit them in this series. Sprinklers would have prevented this. The proper fire-proof sound insulation would have prevented this. If pyrotechnics had not been lit in a badly overcrowded building, there would have been no fire.

The Journal has always taken its public-service role seriously. Within that role, there is no higher charge than to help raise awareness of safety issues that can help save lives.

The Brazil nightclub fire last month demonstrates that the lessons of our fire have not been universally heeded. We are obligated to do what we can to help change that. And what we do is tell these stories.

So that is my answer to the question of why a 12-part series.

On a personal note, I have been involved in this story from the first day, as has just about every member of the Journal's Forged by Fire: Ten Years After team. I lost no one, thankfully. My experience is nothing like those directly affected. But The Journal's own involvement for ten years does give us special empathy.

As I ended my essay, reprinted below, we in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and beyond to one extent or another all live this fire still.

The series so far:

All contents copyright The Providence Journal

Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013
-- Looking back, looking forward: A video.
-- A legacy of grief and questions: Day One series opener.
-- Timeline of a tragedy.
-- The $176 million settlement.
-- Recalling a night of pain and horror.
-- The Journal's 2003 Station Fire blog, from our archives.
-- Read 100 obituaries, leave messages in the guest books.

Monday, Feb. 11
-- Where are the surviving members of Great White?
-- Excerpt from Killer Show: The Station Nightclub Fire, America's Deadliest Rock Concert.

Tuesday, Feb. 12
-- Station owners Derderian brothers silent on anniversary.
-- After prison, band manager Biechele rebuilding life in Florida.
-- Quiet, 'emotional' end for Station fire remnants.
-- Years in litigation, millions in settlement, but no trial.

Wednesday, Feb. 13
-- Medical teams met the challenge; everyone who got out survived.
-- Gallery: Medical community reflects on lessons learned.

Thursday, Feb. 14
-- Gina Russo almost died. But the fire, she says, changed her life for the better.

Friday, Feb. 15
-- Back from the brink: Stefanie Campopiano slowly regains the joy of life.
-- He still asks himself: 'what if': Paul Vanner, sound manager for the club.
-- Harvard Medical School study details psychological damage.

Saturday, Feb. 16
-- A father still seeks justice.
-- Toward a place of peace.
-- An imposing angel keeps watch.
-- A memorial in Warwick.

Sunday, Feb. 17
-- The amazing story of Joe Kinan, most severely burned survivor.
-- 'You don't cry about it': Video of Joe Kinan and Troy Pappas, whose hand he has.
-- Photo gallery of Joe Kinan and the late Troy Pappas, hand donor.

Monday, Feb. 18
-- 'A consecrated place': Coverage of the tenth anniversary service at the site.
-- Struggling to set some things straight: Foam salesman Barry Warner.

Tuesday, Feb. 19
-- Tragedy leads to tougher fire code.
-- He can't forget; others can't forgive fire inspector Larocque.

Wednesday, Feb. 20
-- The Darbys: Sustained by family and faith after husband, father dies in the fire.
-- Acey Longley, son of Ty, Great White guitarist lost in fire, runs charity in honor of Dad.

Thursday, Feb. 21
-- 'Last place that they were alive': Series ends after 12 days, three dozen parts.

Ten years ago:

March 2, 2003
-- The scene in Rhode Island, 11 days after the fire.

Sept. 28 - Oct. 1, 2003
-- Fatal Foam: Investigative series.

THE STATION NIGHTCLUB: Forged by Fire - Ten years after

Looking back and looking forward

They have lived it.

They –– the relatives and friends who lost loved ones, and the people who survived and were injured. Those who knew no one inside the station nightclub on February 20, 2003, have been touched, too.

For ten years, we in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and beyond have lived this terrible story that began at 11:07 p.m., when a man lit pyrotechnics to start a show by a band at an old roadhouse in an old mill town.

For ten years, we have kept these images in our heads:

The flames, the smoke, the sirens and the screams, the flashing lights, the stretchers and ambulances, the badly burned, the dazed survivors, the word spreading by phone and email and knock on the door, the official body count rising by the hour: 8, 39, 50, 65, 75, 85, 86, 96, 99 –– and, 73 days later, in a Boston hospital, 100.

Loved ones experienced the funerals, the hospital stays, the trauma affecting mothers, daughters, sons, fathers, aunts, uncles, and friends –– these many people who would come to be called the station family. We have lived through each successive anniversary, when hundreds have gathered at a site ringed by crosses.


What brought more than 450 men and women –– some of them teenagers, some of them grandparents, most somewhere in between –– out on that cold winter night?

The prospect of fun brought them. The chance to escape, if only for a while, brought them. A favorite band –– Great White, which grew from the hard-rock soil of 1970s California –– brought them.

This was not an evening at the symphony. No woodwinds played. These were working women and men who loved a loud beat and a bar where the beer was cold and plentiful.

These were men and women remembered as good and decent by those who knew them best.

“She taught us about honesty, confidence, kindness and respect for one another and ourselves,” a student of teacher Abbie Hoisington, 28, said in a providence journal special edition.

 “He kept us young,” said the parents of Billy Bonardi, 36.

“His kids were his life,” said the sister of Carlos Pimentel Sr., 38.

“She believed in angels,” said Patti Carbone of her sister, Kristine, 38.

“I believe she didn’t get out because she was helping. I know her personality. She was helping,” said a friend of Tammy Mattera-Housa, 29, mother of two.

“He had just turned his life around,” said the mother of Kevin Dunn, 37. “He was very happy.”

So ten years have passed.

“Safety” has become a commonly spoken word. In Rhode Island, sprinklers and other life-saving measures have been mandated by changes in fire codes.

We no longer enter closed spaces without checking for the exit signs and the best route to safety.
We know the worst that can happen.

But elsewhere, the lessons go unheeded. The fire that killed 238 last month in Brazil was sadly, eerily familiar: No sprinklers. Overcrowding. Pyrotechnics lit off by a band. Bodies stacked in piles at points of no escape.


Ten years have passed.

Some remain angry, believing that justice was not served –– that those most responsible have not stood in public to accept blame. No trial was held. No owner, fire or building official, bouncer or band member was publicly questioned.

Some people of the fire remain broken, perhaps never to be fixed.

Others have healed.

Children ten years ago are now adults. Unborn babies who would never know their parents are children now.

We know that life goes on.


At the place in West Warwick where men and women wanted only good times, mementoes mark 100 dead.

The morning sun spreads shadows across the site. A frigid wind blows, sending fresh-fallen snow into the air. It rattles the beads on Lisa Jean Kelly’s cross and the flags on the memorial to Michael Gonsalves, the radio DJ known as Dr. Metal. The birthday balloons that Bob Johnson placed on his son Derek’s cross shiver. The memory of everyone is real.

For ten years, so many people have lived this.

We live it still.

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