Knowing the exits can be critical

Posted 2/15/23

To the Editor,

On the evening of February 20, 2003 one of the deadliest nightclub fires in the U.S. occurred in West Warwick, RI at the “Station Nightclub” This devastating inferno …

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Knowing the exits can be critical


To the Editor,

On the evening of February 20, 2003 one of the deadliest nightclub fires in the U.S. occurred in West Warwick, RI at the “Station Nightclub” This devastating inferno took the lives of 100 innocent victims and seriously  injured 230 with only 132 patrons escaped uninjured. The spontaneous fire was caused by pyrotechnics from an onstage lighting display during a staged performance.

In 2004 a study of this fire was conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST . They concluded that interior lights were turned up, a loud audio fire alarm was activated and strobe lighting was automatically turned on. With these warnings all patrons knew a serious incident was occurring, a fire, and was now enveloping the club.

Other studies from professional and government sources attributed the extremely high casualty totals to these factors: combustible ornamental stage dressing. overcrowding beyond the normal maximum capacity for a venue that size and. lack of a sprinkler system. Also very important was not being prior informed of the locations of all emergency exits of which there were three not counting the main entrance. One exit was near the stage the other two were behind the kitchen and the bar. All exits had signs that were lit but with the sudden dense smoke most patrons were unaware of their locations.

Many made an effort to escape back through the front entrance they came in, there only known exit, as they were not aware of all the other secondary emergency exits that were available. Unfortunately the bodies immediately piled up crushing the victims causing the high death toll.

In the immediate aftermath the State of Rhode Island convened an emergency meeting called the RI House Oversight Committee on Fire Safety made up of legislators and fire professionals. They were charged to determine the lack of fire protection in all public assembly venues. Their conclusions created new fire codes to remedy any future similar incidents.

Prior to this fire I owned a small business consulting company and one of my clients, Oldcastle, the largest building material company in North America, assigned me the task of studying the US Building and Fire Codes. So it was only natural when I learned of the RI Fire Code hearings that I should attend all 9 sessions. I then obtained recorded videos the next day of each session.  I also submitted along with many other professionals several recommendations of which two became law. One is prior announcements of all exits.

From the results of these hearings we now have laws governing the use of indoor pyrotechnics, mandatory fire suppressant systems in facilities with over 100 guests, and prior public announcements of all emergency exits in most public assemblies.

Regarding the public announcement of emergency exits: It can be: a single prior public voice announcement before most indoor assemblies. These include theater performances, indoor sporting events, weddings, business presentations, and religious services. The exceptions are retail and nightclub performances. These announcements are to be repeated at set intervals as the patrons are fluid in coming and going. The announcements can also be communicated by printed on advertising literature, church bulletins, entertainment venue’s programs, or QR codes posted in clear view.

Even if not regulated in your state they should be made an active means of your public safety net for all who patronize your enterprise. Now due to the increase in the insidious active shooter incidents they have now become necessary to gain an even chance to escape from harm’s way.

Bob Sweeney, President, RES Associates


letter, letters


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  • RELangseth


    Thanks for the great reminder. At the recent "Sawtooth Building" Planning Board meeting, only one exit was obvious. Two other corridors lead to ???? Overcrowding. Clearly the exits should have been better marked and announced at the beginning of the meeting. We should introduce a resolution at City Council for exits at off city hall meetings to be announced. Especially Sawtooth meetings in the lobby. And the second exit should be marked from the Sawtooth lobby. I was thinking about writing a letter to the editor about this -- but there is a lot going on now with the airport. Which reminds me, the RIAC Executive Office lobby has no exits! Only the elevator. Bad news....

    Friday, February 17 Report this