Remembering The Station Night Club Fire

By George Dionne | Feb 15, 2011

February 20, 2011 marks the eight year anniversary of The Station nightclub fire, the fourth deadliest nightclub fire in American history, It claimed the lives of 100 people and injured many, many more.  The fire was started by a small display of pyrotechnics that were set off when 80s rock band Great White took the stage.  Some of my friends know this, but I’m sure that some don’t; I am one of the survivors.

I was always a big fan of eighties music and I had been to numerous live shows featuring my favorite bands. I won tickets to see Great White through a website contest.  What made this one special for me was I was going to be able to meet the band’s lead singer Jack Russell.  I had never been to The Station in Rhode Island for a show.  When I got there I thought it was kind of small.  It had a decent size stage, similar to what Sound Tower might play.  The first odd thing I noticed was the soundproofing that surrounded the stage.  It was similar to the egg crate foam you would put on a lumpy bed.

A friend of mine had gone to the show with me, but had to leave prior to Great White’s performance.  I was standing three rows from the stage.  Perhaps closer than I have ever been to any performance.  Great White took the stage and a small pyrotechnics display went off.  It was a sparkler-type effect spraying on both the left and right of center stage.  I remember thinking it was very strange for something like that to be happening in a place so small.

When the sparks died down I noticed a small flame in the soundproofing foam, just above the drummer.  People began to laugh when they noticed it.  I didn’t see anyone moving to put it out either.  The flame was very light and slowing moving upward.  I have always lived by the mantra that if something doesn’t look right, then it isn’t right.  I decided to start walking away from the stage toward the door.  I figured, if it was nothing than I’d just feel stupid standing outside in the cold by myself.

As I made my way toward the back of the room, which was crowded with people, I could still hear laughing and clapping.  At some point I looked over my shoulder and the once slow moving, small flame had shot up to the ceiling and was spreading fast.  Now people were panicking and I still had a distance between the door and me.  A few days prior, Oprah Winfrey was talking about a nightclub fire in Chicago.  They mentioned on the show that if you stick your elbows out to your sides, then you could avoid being trampled.  That’s what I did.

It was pure chaos as the flames shot higher.  People were screaming and rushing for the door, but there was no room to move quickly due to the amount of us in the building.  The room was filling up with thick black smoke.  I only knew of the front door, but I couldn’t see it anymore.  I was moving purely on instinct and the flow of people in front of me.  My elbows did prevent people from crushing me.  I began to cough from the smoke.  It was very thick and blinding.  I couldn’t see in front of me.  I could feel myself beginning to lose consciousness from the smoke choking me.  I was thinking to myself, “this is it.”

I felt a large “push” behind me which launched me through the doorway and out to the fresh air outside.  To this day I still don’t know if it was the people behind me or divine intervention that got me out of there.  I looked back at the doorway and saw an unbelievable sight.  A large group of people had fallen into their stomachs in the doorway, in piles on top of each other.  The fell in such a manner that they were all wedged in the door and couldn’t move.  I got behind a railing, to prevent from being pulled back in, and grabbed the first hand I could find.  I pulled and pulled and pulled, but I couldn’t move them.  The smoke was pouring out of the doorway choking me and the other people trying to move bodies from the pile.  You could hear glass breaking a people screaming.  It was terrifying.

I tried as hard as I could, but I couldn’t pull that person out of the pile.  The smoke was getting too much for me at this point.  At the time I regretted letting go of that hand, but it was beyond my control and abilities at that point.  The image of letting go haunted me for a while, but it was really my only choice.  In the parking lot I fell to my knees and thanked God for saving me.  I asked that he save those that he could and stop the suffering of those he could not.

It took a couple of years to put the whole ordeal behind me.  All people wanted to do was talk about it at first.  As with most tragedies, as the years go by, the less people talk about it and that is what actually helped most with the healing process.  I’ll never forget the day it happened and everything that went along with it, and I am very grateful that I was one of the lucky ones.  I pray for the victims and the victim’s families that they too have found some closure from this tragedy.  I can only imagine how hard it’s been for them.

Back then people would tell me, “God had other plans for you.”  At the time I had no idea what that meant.  Looking back today, I think I finally know.  In 2003 I was 27 years old, and unhappy in my relationship, with no hopes or chance of a family developing.  Today I am happily married to the love of my life, I have a sweet and beautiful 12-year-old stepdaughter, and my son just turned 3 years old.  I like to think that the “push” that launched me out of the doorway of The Station Nightclub that night was my unborn son as my guardian angel saying, “Daddy, it’s not your time.”

Every day is a gift.  Don't shy away from telling those close to you that you love and care for them.

Comments (5)
Posted by: NDiPasquale | Feb 15, 2011 23:55

George, thank you for sharing your story.  I am sure I speak for many people that will agree that it wasn't your time.  You clearly have a purpose as a father, husband and much more.  Your survivor instinct not only saved your life but has given us a glimpse into the tragedy and an important reminder of never holding back the love you have for those that you hold dear to your heart.

Posted by: P-SPAN | Feb 16, 2011 01:04

George, thank you for sharing your incredible personal account of that tragedy. I was working in RI at that time, and a few of my co-workers were also personally affected by it. One guy I worked with was there that night and had a tough time after with the effects of the smoke inhalation and burns he suffered (as well as the emotional effects)…He also showed me a puncture wound on his back that was caused by the heel of a woman’s shoe who trampled over him as he crouched down. He told me that one moment he was curled up in a fetal position, choking and near unconsciousness…and the next he was outside in the cold, fresh air. He had no idea how he got out. He swore that it was “divine intervention”. Hard to believe there were any miracles that terrible night..but just maybe there were a few..

Posted by: George Dionne | Feb 16, 2011 11:33

Thank you Nicole & P-Span.  I have met quite a few survivors over the years and each story is heartbreaking.  I hope that they have found some happiness and closure since then.

Posted by: Gimme Shelter | Feb 16, 2011 12:38

I remember this incident as if it happened yesterday. Mr Dionne, you put your thoughts together for this column so well - it had to be hell on earth for everyone in there and the responders. God bless you and everyone affected by this tragedy.

Posted by: bruce gannon | Feb 18, 2011 09:56

George, I don't think we've met although I have met many of your fellow survivors. I was in attendance at Mardi Gras in Cranston on the night of their 5th anniversary fund raising concert. Thank you for sharing your story.

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