They were just out for a good time. A little live music. Hanging out with friends. The excitement of the fireworks blazing behind the band Great White just made the evening better. Until the fireworks set the stage on fire. Within 90 seconds – 90 seconds – the nightclub was a terrifying inferno of flames, choking smoke and toxic black rain dripping from the ceilings. As the author of Trial by Fire chillingly notes, “in ninety seconds nearly everyone still inside The Station nightclub was dead or dying.” One hundred people died at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island that night. This is one of America’s deadliest fires in modern times.
Rhode Islanders bayed for blood. Very quickly the government and the media pointed the finger at the owners of The Station, the Derderian brothers, Michael and Jeffrey. Hadn’t they allowed the illegal fireworks? Didn’t they try to save a buck by purchasing highly flammable packing foam instead of sound foam? Weren’t they responsible for packing in people well beyond the legal limit just to make money? Cheap. Greedy. Villains. But were any of those accusations true? Journalist Scott James revisits The Station fire and offers new information in his book Trial by Fire.
Longtime readers of Lost in the Stacks may remember another book about this deadly nightclub fire, Killer Show by John Barylick (my son: are you obsessed?). While Killer Show went into great depth about the mechanics of the fire and the flaws of the building, Trial by Fire concentrates more on the culpability of the Derderian brothers, the role the media played, especially The Providence Journal, and even how the insular and corrupt nature of Rhode Island’s government played a part in the investigation. If you share my
obsession interest in tragic fires, both books are worth reading.