It is Sunday May 21, 2017. Today, less than a mile from my house, in West Warwick RI they will be dedicating a memorial park to the victims of the Station Nightclub Fire. 100 people died during that fire making it the 4th largest loss of life in a nightclub fire in the US.
Several hundred people were severely hurt and burned, their lives changed forver.
Today’s dedication is about the families of those that lost their lives, their families, the survivors, many of whom are horribly scarred and have endured multiple surgeries. I speak every weekon the podcast of never forgetting. This is a time that we should let the families try to gain some sort of closure. I hate that word;closure. Their lieve will never be the same despite, monuments memorials or anything that will remember but never replace their loved ones.
Because of lots of reasons, some legal, some personal, and many other complicated social situations the firefighters and EMS personnel that responded never got to share their story. There was much anger directed at the local fire marshal about code enforcement issues, so in some people’s mind the fire department was a silent enemy. My purpose for this blog post is not to venture down that path.
There were a couple of minor firefighter injuries that night. Nothing serious.
However, many firefighters “mentally died” that night. Growing up in this area and being a former callman for the West warwick fire department I know many of the firefighters involved. My first department (The Harris Fire Department in Coventry) was sort of the farm team for the larger career West Warwick Fire department. I know many of the firefighters personally that responded to this tragic event. Several members have been forced to leave the job, never to return to the profession they loved and have chosen. Many of them have had serious emotional consequenses that linger to this day some 14 years later. None of these things equal the loss of a loved one, but I write about it here because it is a risk that we take when we take the oath of office. No firefighteron duty that day expected to respond to a life changing event that evening.
From a firefighting standpoint many heroic events took place that night with the on duty crews, much mutual aid that responded statewide and from outside the state gave it their all. The rapid speed of the fire, the overcrowding, the furnishings and the use of pyrotechnics did not allow for a level playing field.
- On that night there were some 300-400 + people in that establishment. The closest fire station was within a few hundred yards away. 2 firefighters responded on the first pumper and were faced with an inferno with several hundred people trapped.
- A review of the studies from NIST and review of on scenbe news footage from cameras that were filming that night indicate that the carnage took about 56-58 seconds before flames were coming out the front door.
- Probably no other firefighters other than our brothers in Boston faced something like this since the 1940s and the Coconut grove fire.
There were many other issues that ocured that night which are too numerous to mention and should be mentioned by someone who was there. I was not and I had no involvement other than talking with my friends after the fact.
As firefighters we tend to focus on ourselves sometimes and think about tactics, strategy, command and all of the technicalities. As many firefighters there suffered from CIS and PTSD we must also remember that the families and survivors have had as much counseling as any of the members involved.The difference is that we have to continue to respond to those incidents again tomorrow.
Today on the dedication of this memorial let us remember those that we have responded to, and those who we will respond to tomorrow. It is who we are there for and who we have sworn to protect. It Is what we do.
We are in a business that requires are all out effort every time the bell hits or the town drops.
As we remember lets us think about the following:
- Fire prevention and public education matters. Help educate the citizens so they can help us save them.
- Sprinklers save lives. Sprinklers in places of assemblies are imperative.
- Be trained, be ready for duty mentally and physically.
- Never forget our brothers and sisters on duty, and never, ever forget those that we serve. It’s about them.