Fifteen years later, while the horrific memories remain for those who survived and those who responded to the scene, those same memories have now given birth to something beautiful to honor one of the state’s most infamous tragedies.
The first observance of The Station nightclub fire at the completed memorial park at the site of the Feb. 20, 2003 fire was held Sunday.
The 100 who lost their lives in the fire are each individually remembered in the park that opened almost a year ago. The $2 million needed to build the park was raised by a committee co-chaired by Gina Russo, a survivor of the fire who lost her fiancé to the blaze and Donald Carcieri, who was governor at the time of the tragedy. Both spoke at Sunday’s observance along with a host of elected officials, many of who shared personal stories from the event.
“We’ve got a beautiful day to honor our 100 who are always with us. They’ve never left us,” said Russo. “They’ve made us stronger, and I definitely feel it everyday. I don’t think I’d be the person I am without them.”
State General Treasurer Seth Magaziner reflected on the loss and the resolve of those affected to carry on.
“For the 273 survivors, the tragedy is not past tense, it continues,” he said. “Together, along with that sorrow, we are also reminded of the love, courage, compassion, and resilience of so many family friends and neighbors.”
Congressman Jim Langevin thanked the first responders, medical personnel and bystanders that helped bring people to safety.
“We are forever grateful for your bravery and selflessness,” Langevin said. “Without your help, we would have suffered even greater losses, so I want to thank you for your service that evening, and for all the days and nights since that you have kept watch. We are grateful for what you did.”
Langevin mentioned that fire sprinklers were not installed in the Station Nightclub, which would have resulted in a different outcome if they had been there. Since then, Rhode Island now has some of the toughest sprinkler system laws in the country.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, there’s been no record of a fire killing more than two people in a public building with an automatic fire sprinkling system that is functioning. Langevin stressed the importance of these systems in order to prevent tragedies like this from happening again.
Former Warwick mayor Scott Avedisian noted how the day was also Police Memorial Sunday and how earlier in the day he had attended a service where he inquired how police investigating the fire coped with the enormity of the tragedy. He said the answer was that they focused on the individuals. While the enormity of the fire cannot be dismissed, Avedisian noted that it has brought the state together.
Acting Mayor Joseph Solomon observed that he was serving in the role of acting mayor at the time of the fire, as Mayor Avedisian was out of town. When alerted of the situation he said he “committed all the city resources” to the fire. He talked of the healing process and how that is ongoing.
“I was home with my wife watching television. I received a phone call, and they told me about the devastation and how bad the fire was,” Solomon said. “It is a time in my public career that I have reoccurring nightmares about.”
John D’Amico, Vice President of the West Warwick Town Council, talked about how the observance is a coming together to celebrate the lives who were lost and that is hope for those present to leave the park and its “sacred ground” stronger and with peace.
“Our 100 angels will never be forgotten, because we all carry them with us," said D’Amico. "They live forever in each of our hearts, and on our memories, in the same way that they are now etched permanently in this beautiful memorial park.”
The observance came to a close with the reading of the names of the 100 who lost their lives, along with 100 seconds of silence in their honor.
With reports from John Howell and Ethan Hartley