THE AFTERMATH “It was a scene of utter devastation,” says Barylick.
It's been 10 years since fire tore through a roadhouse in West Warwick — killing 100, injuring 200 more, and singeing thousands of New Englanders whose mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and friends died inside The Station or never quite figured out how to live outside of it.
There are so many individual stories to tell — stories of heroism and suffering and failure. But the Phoenix decided to pull together four Rhode Islanders who could offer up a global view.
John Barylick, Gina Russo, Paul Lonardo, and Marilyn Bellemore all wrote books about The Station fire. And together, their work begins to answer some of the larger questions surrounding the club and the tragedy.
Bellemore, a former Kent County Daily Times reporter who previewed dozens of shows at The Station, tells us in The Night the Music Ended a little about the history of the club and its place in Rhode Island's blue-collar soul.
Russo, a Station survivor who lost her fiancée in the fire, offers a glimpse at the horror of that night — and at the power of recovery — in From the Ashes: Surviving the Station Nightclub Fire, A Personal Story of Tragedy and Triumph. Lonardo, a fiction and non-fiction writer, co-authored the book.
And Barylick, an attorney who represented fire victims in what would become a $176 million civil settlement, provides the definitive account of the tragedy in Killer Show: The Station Nightclub Fire, America's Deadliest Rock Concert — a lawerly prosecution of who, and what, went wrong.
The authors gathered in the Phoenix's offices not long after the deadly club fire in Santa Maria, Brazil that claimed 238 lives. The parallels between the two events were striking — a band ignites pyrotechnics, a blaze grows out of control, overcrowding hastens death. And there was a certain fatalism in the room. Russo said she was sure the Station fire would repeat itself; indeed, it just had.
And yet, as we finished our conversation, all of our panelists insisted there are ways to prevent this sort of disaster from happening again — or at least, to make it a rarer event. We just need to listen.
The interview has been edited and condensed.
JOHN, YOU START YOUR BOOK AT THE SCENE OF THE STATION FIRE THE MORNING AFTER. WHAT DID IT LOOK LIKE?
JOHN BARYLICK: It was a scene of utter devastation. The entire building had been engulfed within minutes. There were few standing walls. There was a collapsed roof in one section.
It was extremely difficult extraction for the first responders. One thing I came to learn was that, in the first responder community, they try to plan carefully how many extractions a given person is exposed to because it's so traumatic. And in this case it was particularly traumatic because the bodies were so intertwined.
Because they underestimated the number of victims originally, they thought they had marshaled enough responders to expose each team of four to only one recovery. And the routine was to send a team of four in, have them separate out one victim's remains, bag those remains, remove it, chaplain would say a prayer over the remains, and the first responders would go to a remote area to be debriefed — for their own physical and mental health, to assess them.