Firefighters: Harrowing Inferno, Heroic Rescues on Arrival

WEST WARWICK, RI -- Shortly after 11 p.m. Thursday night, the West Warwick, Rhode Island Fire Department received a call from the police department that there was a significant fire at "The Station" bar and club on Cowesett Avenue, with numerous people still trapped inside.

While companies were enroute, the West Warwick Fire Dispatcher notified the Battalion Chief that he was on the phone with three women that were trapped in the ladies bathroom and were unable to get out.

The Chief immediately requested a Task Force from the Warwick Fire Department and an additional three rescues to be sent to the scene.

Upon arrival at the scene, firefighters were faced with a horrific site.

The firefighters were overrun by walking wounded, and were instructed them via apparatus public address systems, to go across the street to a nearby restaurant where a triage area was being set up.

In an attempt to stop the pain from the burns, many victims were throwing themselves in show banks that were left behind from Monday's storm.

As additional alarm companies and mutual aid began to arrive, firefighters concentrated on rescuing as many people as possible. Despite the fact that the building was fully engulfed in flames on arrival, firefighters were observed on their bellies attempting to enter the structure at various points.

With fire rolling out of the doors over their heads, numerous victims were pulled from within and near the burning structure. The efforts of the first responders are credited with saving more than 100 lives.

Mutual aid was requested from all 39 cities and towns in Rhode Island, as well as numerous rescue companies from Southeastern Massachusetts.

Major Features
At Least 96 Dead in Inferno
First-In: Heroic Rescues
Fire, Smoke Turns Club Into Hell
Family, Friends Search
Discuss the Warwick Tragedy

Photos & Video
IBS Scene SlideShow
ABC: The Fire Starts
WJAR Video Feedroom

The Club
Sprinklers Not Required
Nightclub Up to Code Before Fire

History of Tragedies
Tragedy Recalls Cocoanut Grove
Worst Club Tragedies
Nightclub Disasters Too Familiar
List: Worst Club Tragedies

More Stories
No Warning of Pyro Use
Pyrotechnics Usually Safe

Related Sites
West Warwick Fire Department
Warwick Fire Department
FH Network: Rhode Island
Providence Journal Coverage

There are still many questions that need to be answered about the blaze. Members of West Warwick's Fire Prevention Bureau are being assisted by members of the State Fire Marshal's office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Ironically, a local television news cameraman was on the scene filming a story on dance club safety, related to the stampede tragedy earlier in the week in Chicago.

He was rolling camera when the band Great White took the stage, setting off their pyrotechnics. This, in turn, set the acoustic tiles around the stage on fire. Then, the tragedy unfolded.

From all accounts, many concert-goers believed that the fire was part of the show and one was heard yelling on the video 'This is great'

West Warwick Fire Chief Charles Hall said it took only three minutes for the entire building to be fuly involved.

"The bodies were stacked like cordwood," a Warwick captain said. Chief Hall said many of those lost were found inside the front entrance, while others were found in the bathrooms and other parts of the club.

Responding Warwick firefighters were sent home early to be debriefed by counselors, officials said.

As of 9 p.m. Friday, a total 96 bodies have been removed from the site. Firefighters transported approximately 164 people via rescue to area hospitals throughout the night. Area hospitals were overwhelmed with patients and several of the most severely burned were transported by helicopter to burn centers in Worcester and Boston, Massachusetts.

Hospital officials also reported that they had a number of people show up in ER's today that were at last night's concert. In a site that was eerily similar to the days following the 9/11 tragedy, family members were walking around the scene with photos searching for loved ones. Family members were urged to report to the Crowne Plaza Hotel for information.

Prior to Thursday night's fire at The Station, the most deadly fire to hit Rhode Island was on the campus of Providence College in 1977. In that fire, 10 freshmen were killed when their dormitory caught fire.

West Warwick is a town with 30,000 residents. The West Warwick Fire Department employs approximately 65 people operating four engine companies, a tower ladder, two rescues and a battalion chief.

The Town of West Warwick is no stranger to fatal fires. In December of 1995, two days before Christmas, 5 people were killed in a house fire. In the early 1980's, a young boy was killed in a house fire. This fire brought drastic changes to the department.

Prior to the fire, engine companies were staffed with one person, after the fire, the department staffed its engines with two. In the mid-1990's, an arson problem plagued the town. Fires were being set in vacant buildings on nearly a daily basis. Several firefighters were injured battling these blazes. Contributor Tom Carmody has been a full time firefighter/EMT-C since May of 1992, currently serving with the City of Cranston, RI Fire Department. He started his career with the West Warwick Fire Department