LEGACY: The site of the February 2003 nightclub disaster is set to become a formal memorial.
For most Rhode Islanders, the Station nightclub conflagration — the worst disaster in the state since the hurricane of 1938 — is like a receding object in a rearview mirror.
Dave Kane, the father of 18-year-old Nicholas O’Neill, the youngest victim of the February 2003 catastrophe, uses this image to describe the typical view of those not directly affected by the fire. “They come to the site to see what happened, and they drive away,” Kane says, referring to the scene in West Warwick destined to become a formal memorial. Public concern about the disaster “gets smaller and smaller, and five years from now it will be even smaller.”
For Kane, as could only be expected, the situation is very different. Like some of the others touched by the Station fire, he remains outraged by what he perceives as the injustice of the aftermath, and his voice is choked by emotion as he discusses this, his sense of frustration palpable.
Bound by their shared experience in the cataclysm in West Warwick, the survivors of the Station disaster — as well as the friends and relatives of those injured and killed — each have different stories, different outlooks, and different ways of carrying the pain and suffering inflicted on February, 20, 2003.
It was on that apparently unremarkable Thursday night, shortly before the start of the war in Iraq, when the seemingly carefree act of going to see Great White, a fading hard-rock act, at the Station, an old roadhouse in the geographic center of Rhode Island, became a nightmare.
Great White’s use of pyrotechnics, combined with a clogged main exit, the lack of a sprinkler system, and the cheap foam soundproofing that accelerated the spread of a small initial fire, produced an inferno that turned the Station into a deathtrap within minutes. One hundred people were killed, and more than twice that many hurt.
Five years later, the sheer magnitude of human devastation, the grievances, like those expressed by Kane, and the pending resolution of 10 civil lawsuits in federal court are the main legacies of that terrible night.
The encouraging sense of a state coming together in response has long since dissipated, as has the sacred, 9/11-like quality that initially surrounded the tragedy and its aftermath. Even by the first anniversary of the disaster, many survivors expressed a sense of feeling overlooked.
This is human nature. We put out of mind and forget nearby unpleasantness and those things perceived as not directly concerning us.
Yet the Station nightclub disaster, a half-decade on, is also a story of determination and resilience, of the survivors — many of whom still wrestle with their injuries, a diminished ability to earn a living, and the expense of medical bills — trying to move forward while not being able to put far away the night of the fire.
It is for these individuals that a group of musicians will come together at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center next Monday, February 25, in an effort to show that they are not forgotten.