The Station Nightclub February 20, 2003 Revisted

A fire occurred on the night of February 20, 2003, at The Station Nightclub located in West Warwick, Rhode Island.

A band that was performing that night, during its performance, used pyrotechnics that ignited foam insulation lining the walls and part of the ceiling of the platform being used as a stage. Based on a video from a news camera operator who was present at the time of the fire, the fire spread quickly along the ceiling area over the dance floor.

The Station nightclub fire was the fourth deadliest nightclub fire in American history, killing 100 people.

The fire began at 11:07 PM EST, on Thursday, February 20, 2003, at The Station, a glam metal and rock n roll themed nightclub located at 211 Cowesett Ave. in West Warwick, Rhode Island.

The fire was caused by pyrotechnics set off by the tour manager of the evening’s headlining band, Great White, which ignited flammable sound insulation foam in the walls and ceilings surrounding the stage. A fast-moving fire engulfed the club in 5½ minutes. Some 230 people were injured and another 132 escaped uninjured.

Smoke was visible in the exit doorways in a little more than one minute, and flames were observed breaking through a portion of the roof in less than five minutes.

Egress from the nightclub was hampered by crowding at the main entrance to the building. One hundred people lost their lives in the fire, and hundreds were injured.


The Station Nightclub was a single story wood frame structure with an area of approximately 4484 square feet (412 m2).

Time “zero” was defined as the time that the polyurethane foam was ignited by the pyrotechnic devices. Two fires started, one on each side of the drummer’s alcove. Approximately 30 seconds after ignition, the band stopped playing, and the crowd began to evacuate.

At 41 seconds after ignition, the fire alarm sounded and the strobes began to flash, and the fire continued to spread across the back wall of the stage and in the alcove.

The camera operator exited the building at 71 seconds after ignition, and smoke was flowing out of the front doorway. When the camera operator returned to the front doorway, at 102 seconds after ignition, people were piled up in the doorway. People evacuated to the extent possible through the available doorways, broken windows in the sunroom, and the windows in the main bar area.

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U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology issued its final technical report on The Station nighclub fire in W. Warwick, R.I., in 2005.

NIST also made 10 recommendations based on its report, urging all state and local governments to adopt and aggressively enforce national model building and fire safety codes for nightclubs.

The investigation concluded that “strict adherence to the 2003 model codes available at the time of the fire would go a long way to preventing similar tragedies in the future. Changes to the codes subsequent to the fire made them stronger. By making some additional changes—and state and local agencies adopting and enforcing them — we can strengthen occupant safety even further.”

“Based on our investigation findings and the comments received on our draft report, we are today making 10 recommendations in our final report for increased occupant safety in nightclubs that reinforce the current model codes and proposing additional changes that will make them even more effective,” said Lead Investigator William Grosshandler.

  • adopt a building and fire code covering nightclubs based on one of the national model codes—as a minimum requirement—and update local codes as the national standards are revised;
  • implement aggressive and effective fire inspection and enforcement programs that address all aspects of these codes; and
  • ensure that enough fire inspectors and building plan examiners—professionally qualified to a national standard—are on staff to carry out this work.

Seven of the 10 NIST recommendations support and add to the actions already taken by the State of Rhode Island and national model code development organizations since The Station nightclub fire. The remaining three NIST recommendations call for more research on human behavior in emergencies, fire spread and suppression, and computer-aided decision tools—the data from which could yield further improvements in and maximize the effectiveness of these lifesaving regulations.The first recommendation urges all state and local jurisdictions to:

Recommendations 2 and 3 address the use of automatic fire sprinkler systems for extinguishing fires in nightclubs and limiting the flammability of materials used as finish products to prevent such fires in the first place. NIST recommends that the current—and recently strengthened—National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems (NFPA 13) be adopted, implemented and enforced for all new nightclubs regardless of size, and for existing nightclubs with an occupancy limit greater than 100 people. Materials that ignite easily and propagate flames rapidly such as non-fire retarded flexible polyurethane foam should be clearly identifiable and be specifically forbidden as a finish material for all new and existing nightclubs, according to the NIST report.

Recommendation 4 calls for the NFPA 1126 standard on the use of pyrotechnics before an audience to be strengthened by addressing the need for automatic sprinkler systems; minimum occupancy/building size levels; the posting of pyrotechnic use plans and emergency procedures; and setting new minimum clearances between pyrotechnics and the items they potentially could ignite.

Recommendation 5 calls for changes in national model codes that increase the factor of safety for determining occupancy limits in all new and existing nightclubs. These include setting a maximum permitted evacuation time (90 seconds for nightclubs similar in size to or smaller than The Station), calculating the number of required exits and permitted occupancies (assuming that at least one exit will be inaccessible during an emergency), increasing staff training and evacuation planning, and improving means for occupants to locate emergency routes when standard exit signs are obscured by smoke.

Recommendation 6 addresses portable fire extinguishers, calling for a better understanding of the numbers, placement locations and staff training required to ensure their effective use.

Recommendation 7 calls for developing and implementing effective and interoperable communications for mass casualty events within and between first responder organizations. Again, NIST recommends that state and local jurisdictions adopt existing model standards on communications, mutual aid, command structure and staffing.

Finally, recommendations 8 through 10 address critically needed research to serve as the basis for further improvements in codes, standards and practices. NIST urges studies be conducted to:

  • better understand human behavior in emergency situations and to predict the impact of building design on safe egress in emergencies;
  • better understand fire spread and suppression; and
  • develop and refine computer models and computer-aided decision tools that communities can use to make cost-effective choices about code changes, fire safety technologies and emergency resource allocations.

Details on all 10 recommendations may be found on the Web at

The primary objectives of the NIST Rhode Island nightclub fire investigation were to:

  • determine the conditions in the nightclub prior to the fire;
  • reconstruct the fire ignition, fire spread and survivability using computer models;
  • examine the impact on survivability if a sprinkler system had been installed; and
  • analyze the emergency evacuation and occupant responses to better understand the impediments to safe egress.

Other Links

  • The NIST Station Nightclub Fire Investigation: Physical Simulation of the Fire By: Daniel Madrzykowski, Nelson Bryner, and Stephen I. Kerber, HERE
  • Engineers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Building and Fire Research Laboratory arrived at the fire scene within 48 hours to provide a reconnaissance report to the NIST director. The complete NCST report1 that documents the procedures, experiments, studies, findings, and recommendations of the investigative team can be downloaded from


Summary of actions needed and/or taken on recommendations resulting from The Station nightclub fire investigation
•Crosswalk of Recommendations to Categories
•Recommendations—NIST Investigation of The Station Nightclub Fire
Final Report – June 29, 2005

◦Final NIST Rhode Island Nightclub Fire Report Urges Strict Adherence to and Strengthening of Current Model Safety Codes (News Release)
◦Final Report of the Technical Investigation of The Station Nightclub Fire (pdf)
◦Final Report—Appendices (pdf)
◦B-roll of Fire Tests and Simulations (this link requires RealPlayer)

The fire was the deadliest in the United States since the 1977 Southgate, Kentucky, Beverly Hills Supper Club fire that claimed 165 lives.

The worst nightclub fire occurred on November 28, 1942, in Boston at the Cocoanut Grove, where 492 died after paper decorations caught fire.

The Rhythm Night Club Fire in Natchez, Mississippi, claimed the lives of approximately 209 persons during a dance on April 23, 1940.

The Station fire exceeded the death toll of 87 in the March 25, 1990, Happyland Fire in the Bronx, New York City.



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