When you enter the Station Fire Memorial Park in West Warwick you walk on guitar frets; the frets lead you towards stereo boxes that hold the pictures and names of those who died; the stereo boxes are arranged in circles, facing inwards, towards a 45-vinyl player, as if each face is listening to the music.
Music influences all parts of the Station Fire Memorial Park, where this Sunday at 1 p.m., a memorial service will take place to observe the 15th anniversary of the Station Nightclub fire.
The fire broke out after pyrotechnics lit by the tour manager of Great White, the band playing at The Station that night ignited plastic foam used as sound insulation in the ceiling and walls around the stage. Soon toxic black smoke billowed out into the crowd, reducing visibility and forcing people unconscious. There was a mad dash for the main entrance, but people were crushed in the narrow hallway, blocking the exit completely.
100 people were killed, and 230 were injured. The Station Nightclub fire was the fourth-deadliest nightclub fire in the country.
Most years the memorial service is held near February 20th. Usually it is indoors, but this year with the memorial completed it was going to be held there. A storm postponed that observance.
“It’s about bringing people together to remember those stories,” said Jody King, whose brother, Tracy, was killed in the fire 15 years ago. “It’s a time to remember all the changes that happened. We’re still learning our lesson.”
Jody says he and his brother Tracy argued all the time about everything.
“He was a great friend,” said Jody. “If I could have said one more thing to him I would have said ‘I love you.’ I don’t every want this to happen to anybody else. I don’t want anybody else to bury a child. I had to tell my parents my brother died.”
The plan for the memorial, which was finished only last year, came the night after the fire. Gina Russo, a fire survivor, was one of the leaders of the effort to raise funds, both for the monument, and other initiatives to help survivors, such as the Station Education Organization, the Rhode Island Foundation, and the Station Fire Memorial Foundation.
“It’s really about remembering,” said Russo. “The power of a survivor story has helped build momentum for the memorial. It has brought peace to many people. I feel like it’s done its job.”
Russo lost her fiancé, Fred Crisostomi, in the fire. The two of them had gone to the Station Nightclub that night to listen to live music.
“It was what we there for,” said Russo. “We felt it was really important to bring that back to the park. It was important to not forget why we were there.”
When Jody King solicited donations for a memorial, he was astounded at how willing Rhode Islanders were to give.
“I went around Warwick asking to help build a memorial, and I quickly realized there was a degree of separation [between people], not six degrees, because all sorts of people said I knew your brother. Everybody knows someone who has was affected. Rhode Islanders just gave.”
King was the inspiration behind the Warwick memorial to victims of the fire that is across Veterans Memorial Drive from Fire Department headquarters. He also played a major role in the campaign for the memorial in West Warwick.
The West Warwick memorial, finished in May of last year, cost over $2 million and is built on the Station Nightclub site, on 211 Cowesett Avenue West Warwick.
King is hopeful of a large turnout Sunday.
“February is usually not conductive to good weather and 30 or 40 people show up, but we’re expecting a couple of hundred on Sunday,” he said.
At the memorial service Rev. Don Anderson, executive minister of the Rhode Island Council of Churches will say a prayer, and then there will be a reading of the 100 names of those who were killed. Former Governor Donald Carcieri and West Warwick Town Council Vice President John Denico will also speak. Music is to be provided by the Winman Junior High Choral.
“It’s about what the last few years have been like,” said Russo. “Growing from it, and to see where are we now.”
The memorial service beings this Sunday at 1p.m. All are invited.