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Sifting Through The Ashes

A Commentary

John Sottile




Rhode Island Governor Carcieri
stated on TV immediately after the fire,

"Somebody made a bad decision!"

I hold that all of the bad decisions -- or indecisions --
had been made before the rock band, Great White,
took to the stage.

The band just literally and too tragically lit-up
the firestorm surrounding these decisions.

We're all taken up by the tragedy of the West Warwick fire at the nightclub called "The Station."  And, I'm sure that we're all converging on our own sense of who is responsible.

I am compelled to write this report... and build this site. Having grown up among firefighters / chiefs and having a heightened sensitivity to fire prevention and deaths by fire, I am bothered beyond my own expectation.

More so, I'm compelled to publish this report because I'm angry at the authorities who are distancing themselves from responsibility, when they ascribe blame to others and pontificate words such as "Well, were going to study (whatever) to make certain that this never happens again."

These words are crap! There is nothing to study! All of the knowledge that could have prevented this fire EXISTS in fire science, other states'codes, and even in logical minds!   

 There is an an expression,
"Who died and made you boss --  or in this case the fire authority?"

This expession would be inappropriate, perhaps even distasteful,
for use with this tragedy were it not for the fact that
we all have learned... or are still learning: 

We are, and must be, our own and best "boss and authority"
regarding venues, firetraps, and crowd dangers,
for the official bosses fail us too often.

This website is a synopsis of observations garnered from TV coverage, observations, and comments on which I place limited credence, but do "hear" the overall message.

I literally grew up among firefighters and fire chiefs. Because of my respect for them on the whole, I wish that I could feel otherwise. But, if the club, The Station, and band, Great White, are to be found guilty, the fire authorities (plus politicians, business associations, and others who block(ed) more stringent fire regulations via grandfathering) are not without a greater share of blame.

Blame will not right the wrongs nor bring back lives, but it will lead to safer clubs and club-going.  Something is wrong when you and I can walk into a place and call it a "firetrap."  It's not just the club owner, and it's not just a rock band with a flash-pot that baits this lethal trap. It's the entire fire system that lets it exist!

Despite existing codes and inspections, The Station was an absolute firetrap. It trapped 98 to death* (SEE RIGHT), plus burned/maimed 187 ( 35 still critically )... within minutes.  So they ... "the collective they"... all fire and legislative authorities failed the public. The fish rots from the head. The club owners and band are just the body decaying from neglected vigilance.

The ultimate blame for the Rhode Island tragedy rest in the State Fire Marshal's Office and the local Fire Department. These positions are staffed by professionals who must be knowledgeable and certified in fire science to even be an apprentice firefighter. As the educated promulgators and enforcers of fire codes, the public relies upon their knowledge and judgment, especially in public places. This is a public trust which fire authorities seek and create through the establishment of their office(s). Without the public's trust in these offices, there would be no reason for the public to pay for their existence. I maintain that neither the club nor the band would have acted as they did that night, or in the past, had they known of the strict compliance required by the state and local authorities -- a compliance that not only would result in the permanent loss of licenses for violation by the owner, but criminal prosecution for the band if they surprised the owner. "Policing" is a requirement for all laws, not just criminal, where innocents can be harmed.

Consumers vote a product's approval with their dollars spent to take the good home.  Concert-goers vote a performer's approval through tickets bought with little regard for the venue, for there is no chance to take the "live excitement" home.  This leaves vulnerable the fun-seeking event-goer to the beneficence, or exploitation, of the venue owner / operator... and, the watch of the public authorities who are charged by their oath of duty to MANAGE (that is plan / organize / direct / and control the venue with respect to the laws established to protect the patrons).  The authorities failed their oaths:   Their mis-management allowed The Station to exist as it was just before the fire started.


* My report which is the basis of this website was written shortly after the fire. Victim counts reflect that time... those findings... the pictures... the posturing... and the laws.  Since February, much has happened. Sadly, the count is now 100 people dead.  The hopeful news is that their deaths will save others as the State of RI has recently passed legislation regarding sprinklers and other matters. One could argue that the lead-time of about one year for implementation is too long.  But it is better than the pre-fire mentality. 
Additionally, some people and authorities are now both writing and perhaps patenting ideas relative to current code short-comings which were already stated in my report. This is great! I applaud both their entrepreneurship and common sense, for surely it has been lacking from the fire protection industry, fire authorities, and political leadership.
These are harsh words... but hardly harsh compared to the pictures of the conflagration, contained in this site, which re-stimulate the horror of that evening... the painful goodbyes... the agonizing burn recoveries... and the physical and emotional aftermath.

Nothing in this site is meant to diminish the bravery of the firefighters, emts, police, chaplins and volunteers who worked heroically to save lives.  You are to be commended.
The criticism is directed at the fire safety "system" which failed to serve and protect. Had it, 100 people would be alive, about 150 more would not be recovering, and all others, including you, would not have to "deal" with this preventable loss.


This report is dedicated to former Fire Chief, Raymond Killackey (deceased), of Pittsfield, MA who lived in the same house as I during my youth.  More than a Fire Chief, "Ray" was a caring person who brought home, in subtle ways, the loss caused by fire... and in particular the loss of life.  With Ray there never was a didactic or catechism about fire, there just was an quiet message... a message which communicated fire safety.  I, like others, have had close calls with fire, not in a life threatening way, but wake-up calls nonetheless that repeat his messages... Who knows for certain whether The Station fire would have been averted under Ray's firewatch.  Of this I can't speculate.  However, I can state unequivocably that without his tutelage, I would never "see" the observations expressed in this website, for over time, Ray instilled "fire codes" which exceed even today's considered codes. 


(C) 2003 John Sottile / Venues and Events
Picture Copyrights, Web Links & Media Logos Belong To Others
Opinions Expressed Are Those Of The Author, and DO NOT
Represent Those Of Other's.