Just Tragic: Rhode Island Great White Disaster

Like a sick version of VH1’s Where Are They Now, AP is reporting that at least 39 people died [Update: 54 65 96 dead] last night after a fire broke out at a Great White concert in West Warwick, Rhode Island. The nightclub fire comes less than a week after 21 people were killed in a stampede towards the door of a dance club here in Chicago. This is absolutely horrible, not in the least because these deaths were entirely preventable.

Having spent more than my fair share of nights in overcrowded clubs with dubious emergency exit strategies, I consider myself damn lucky today. Waiting to file out of a bar next to someone with B.O. will never bother me again. I will probably start paying more attention to emergency exit signs. I might even think twice about sticking around at those shows where visual evidence tells me the club has doubled or tripled its occupancy limit.

That is, if the sorts of small clubs and locally promoted concerts I usually frequent are even around anymore. In the wake of these two awful incidents and the resultant media attention, it’s a safe bet that life as a small time club owner or concert promoter just got ugly. Insurance rates will go up. Code restrictions will be more aggressive. Enforcement will be taken more seriously. These are good things, obviously necessary steps. I just hope they don’t result in a whole slew of small venues being wiped out.

11 thoughts on “Just Tragic: Rhode Island Great White Disaster”

  1. I know it’s extremely hard to make any comments as of yet on either the tragedy or the circumstances that might result from it, but I want to go ahead and pay my respects not only to the victims and their families who were just there to enjoy a rock show, but to Jeff Sabatini who’s had the audacity to inform the GloNo community. Hopefully, this will trigger some sort of discussion relating to the incident.

    Once again, peace to all.


  2. I wish to express my deepest sorrow to all of the families of the 96 clubgoers who died in the process of simply trying to enjoy a night out. Be assured, I will be saying prayers for all of you.

    I wish to also express my utter disgust and fury at whoever gave the okay for the pyrotechnics to be shot off in such a small enclosure. We are looking at a tragedy in rock and roll that far outstrips Altamont, far outstrips the Who in Cincinatti 1979, and even outstrips the E2 tragedy. And to whoever is responsible for giving the thumbs up to the pyro, I hold them personally responsible; that’s the blood of 96 people on their hands.

    With sorrow and anger,


  3. Dude. Pyro is part of rock and roll. It’s truly a shame that the club was so flammable. Buildings shouldn’t catch on fire and burn to the ground in three minutes flat. I’m sad that it’s pretty much guaranteed that pyrotechnics will be banned in clubs from now on. Flash pots rule, and I’m going to miss them.

  4. I asked my friend Dan, who plays in the Millions, a group that has been known to use lots of pyro, if he had ever had any close calls before. Here’s Dan’s response:

    “Yes – we have caught things on fire before: our hair, one of our T-shirts and a pair of my jeans (I have video footage of that one – I was able to stomp out very small flames.) We never burned anything that was physically part of the club and we did our pyro in places much smaller than where Great White was playing. We didn’t usually use gerbs (creates an extended shower of sparks) like they were, but we have in the past without incident (for the most part, gerbs cause too much smoke for use in small areas – real thick stuff that makes breathing difficult). Our pyro was usually quick shots of flash powder, gun power or magnesium (creates bright white sparks). At our shows and others, I have seen pyro bounce off all kinds of surfaces including various fabrics, foams and woods. Never have I seen something catch like it did in the Rhode Island video footage. When we purchased our pyro we went out to our supplier’s home in Rockford, and he gave us safety lessons for about 3 hours. He took us into one of those really old, wood framed, detached garages. Everything that he fired bounced right off the rafters above – I thought for sure that something would catch – but he assured me that nothing would. He told us to never, ever take that for granted though – to always carry a fire extinguisher and be ready to use it. A simple fire extinguisher would have gone a long way at The Station. Anyone that did pyro for us was required to have the extinguisher within arm’s reach and know how to pull the pin, spray etc. before firing our effects. You’re bringing open flames into an enclosed area. Why wouldn’t you have AT LEAST one fire extinguisher? As far as the debate about whether or not they had permission from the club, I would almost guarantee that they had a verbal agreement to use the effects. We always checked with clubs before we even brought our stuff with us. Permission was never denied, but it was always verbal only. Although you’d think that a band like Great White, which has a booking agency and written contracts (most importantly so they can get their guarantee ca$h) would put something like that in writing.

    “I actually made an official statement on our site (not something I would normally do) about the Rhode Island tragedy here: http://www.millionsrock.com/fox_statement.html

    “To be honest, it’s a little bit whiney, but I was truly very freaked out about the whole thing. I actually lost sleep for a couple of nights. I could never, ever live with myself, knowing that I was responsible for burning or killing anyone at all, let alone 96 people.”

  5. Jake,

    Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not against pyro. I think it’s great for places like the United Center, Rosemont Horizon, Tweeter Center, etc. where there’s a big space and plenty of sprinkler systems. I’ve seen Kiss; it really added to the show, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think pyro’s appropriate in a room the size of a banquet hall. I’ve even seen a Kiss tribute band Strutter which not only does a really decent approximation of the real McCoy, has fire-breathing in their act. But Strutter, like most tribute bands, plays in small clubs. Now in hindsight, I’m glad nothing happened. Right or wrong, maybe a little better judgment will be exercised. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing, either.


  6. There’s a good article on Salon about how unconscionable it is that the Grammys ignored the whole event. I agree it is, when it’s the worst disaster in rock’s history. Both fires. Just incredibly horrible and tragic. Yet no one seems able to deal with it properly — it’s hard to react to, maybe because it comes right as we’re mentally preparing to lose lives in war? I don’t know. (The Salon article also points to the lack of anti-war commentary by anyone.)

  7. It’s 4/17/03, anyone else hear anything more about this? It just seems to have been swept under the carpet. I personally hold the club 100% responsible. They had no sprinkler system nor apparently any fire extinguishers at the club. Now I ask you – WHO in their right mind owns a club that serves ALCOHOL (hence, big fire) and allows smoking in the club & doesn’t have a sprinkler system???

    Sorry, but I don’t place any blame on the band. They lost their guitarist, so they aren’t exactly just “walking away” from this as many claim.

  8. It has been alittle over 8 months now since the fire at the Station Nightclub and it just seems like yesterday that it happened. I still ask myself WHY? Why do people have to die or be injured by fire. As a firefighter myself of 22 years I never get use to the pain and suffering of those injured and those left behind by the death of a loved one. Things happen peopl say. I say they happen because someone didn’t care enough for it not to happen. Things have got to change before this happens again. It will happen again if club owner don’t want to spend money to make money. One hundred people paid the price no one should have to pay. Countless others will never be the same again. How could they. The scares will always be there and emotionally they will always wonder will I be safe if I go into that place. I have dedicated my life to saving others from fire and I am going to keep on doing it until there is no life left in me. I am not putting blame on anyone. That is not for me to do. But I am getting better educated as we speak to become a fire marshal or fire inspector. I hope that in some small way ,I can make a difference so that this won’t happen again.

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