David Bettencourt, a Cranston man working on a documentary web series about the Station Nightclub fire, wasn’t in the best spirits Sunday. He was disturbed about the tragic fire at Kiss, a club in Santa Maria, Brazil that claimed the lives of more than 230 people that same morning.
“I was pretty devastated this morning when I read the news online,” Bettencourt said during a brief phone interview Sunday. “My 12-year-old son brought it to my attention, and I was pretty emotional because I just learned about what these kinds of fires and smoke can do to people.”
Ironically, Bettencourt spoke to a gentleman from TYCO Fire Protection Products on Friday as part of his research for his web series, “The Station.” They discussed the changes in fire safety codes because of The Station fire, as well as “flashovers,” the near-simultaneous ignition of most of the directly exposed combustible material in an enclosed area. He plans to use information from the interview for his web series, which debuts online on YouTube/TheStationWebSeries on Feb. 20, 2013, the 10-year anniversary of the tragic fire that claimed 100 lives.
The release will be the first of seven, and the rest of the episodes, which range in length from five to nine minutes, will make their premiere online each Wednesday for six following weeks. It will also be aired on Rhode Island PBS, as Bettencourt is working on finding time slots.
The web series, which can be viewed at no cost, documents testimonials such as Bettencourt’s discussion with the TYCO representative, as well as interviews with survivors, family members and friends who lost loved ones to the blaze, plus first responders and medical personnel.
It’s not an investigation as to what happened, Bettencourt said, rather an informational, educational experience.
“Learn, Remember, Heal,” is the tagline.
“I interviewed a few survivors of the fire and their stories are just riveting,” he said. “They speak about the fire as if it happened last year, not 10 years ago. I took notice of how deeply affected each of these people were about what happened that night. Their recollections are really powerful.”
One of the people who provided Bettencourt with an interview was his college friend, Missy Minor, a West Warwick woman who survived the fire. She and her friend Kerrie Rock-Hull were in the building that night, and thought they were going to die.
Minor, whose grandfather had died two days before the fire, had a 2-month-old infant at home, and wanted to spend time with friends to unwind. She called Rock-Hull, and they ended up at The Station.
Before they knew it, the fire broke out.
“We hooked hands and immediately started heading for the front door,” Minor said. “At that moment, we just figured an alarm would go off, we’d go outside and they’d put out the fire. But right before we made it to the door, the lights went out and it was instantly black. It was completely consumed by smoke. I knew with 100 percent certainty that I was going to die.”
Blinded by darkness and smoke, the women were pushed away from one another. They were left to make it out on their own.
“You couldn’t see, but you knew there were people around you,” she said. “Everyone was just kind of bouncing around off each other.”
She fell to the floor a few times, and began having trouble breathing. However, she was familiar enough with the club to know there was a window nearby and kept moving in that direction.
“The last time I had fallen I said to myself, ‘This is the last time I’m going to be able to get up,’ because I was just too exhausted and I couldn’t breathe,” said Minor. “But I had to try one more time because I knew if I didn’t, my dad would be mad. I got up, turned to the right and I was almost staring out the window. That’s how hot and smoky it was – I was that close to the window and could not even feel the coldness outside or see any lights.”
Meanwhile, Rock-Hull was in the pileup in the doorway. Luckily, she also made it out alive.
“It was weird because I just knew she was OK,” Minor said. “She said the same thing about me.”
Minor hopes the web series provides people with peace, as does Bettencourt. He said Minor, as well as a few other people, inspired him to create the web series.
“She’s been pushing me for a while now to tell these stories,” he said. “She didn’t want people to be forgotten, so that’s why I jumped in.”
In addition to Minor, Bettencourt said Gina Russo and Paul Lonardo, authors of the book, “From the Ashes: Surviving the Station Nightclub Fire,” influenced him to pursue the project. They also introduced him to people he interviewed for the web series.
“Missy started it in my mind, and then I met Paul and Gina, read their book and was moved by it,” Bettencourt said.
Russo, who lost her fiancé in the fire, shared her story with Bettencourt. While Russo could not be reached for comment in time for press, Lonardo spoke of her strength, as well as the importance of Bettencourt’s efforts, in a recent phone interview with the Warwick Beacon.
“People want to hear her story,” Lonardo said, noting that he contacted Bettencourt via email after visiting Bettencourt’s website a few years ago, as he was looking for someone to make a film. After touching base and with Bettencourt, he and Russo supplied Bettencourt with a list of names for the project. “He wanted to make sure it could be done right, and he figured out a way to do it.”
For Bettencourt, the project is a “labor of love.” He isn’t taking the task lightly.
“I’ve been very careful with handling their stories,” he said. “Hearing their stories from that night and how they’ve healed is really powerful. There were numerous times that we had to stop because everyone in the room was tearing up or outright crying. Sometimes, I just held their hand and listened. A lot of these people just wanted someone to tell their story to.”
If the web series is successful, Bettencourt, who has a degree in journalism from the University of Rhode Island, and an MFA in Film from Boston University, and now works full-time as a senior cinematographer and production manager at Seven Swords Media, would like to release additional episodes. He’s hoping more people will want to share their experience.
Until then, he will be working on this installment until it’s released.
“These are important stories that need to be told,” Bettencourt said. “It’s something that I think everyone needs to watch because it’s something you can learn from. It’s valuable information for people around the world that we need to do something about this. I hope it’s well received. Then, I can contemplate the next seven.”
Aside from this project, Bettencourt has released four films, including “You Must Be This Tall,” a documentary about Rocky Point. This is his first attempt at a web series. Learn more at DavidBettencourt.com.
For more information about The Station Web Series, visit TheStationMovie.com.