As we remember the deadly Station nightclub fire in West Warwick on Feb. 20, 2003, Providence and other Rhode Island cities put into place new fire codes meant to ensure that such a deadly fire never takes place again. 100 people were killed and 200 injured in the fire, which was caused by sparks from pyrotechnics igniting highly flammable acoustic foam in the club. The club's co-owners and the band's tour manager eventually pled guilty or no contest to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter.
A number of lawsuits, for premises liability, defective products and even obstructing the entrance, were brought against the club. It wasn't until June 2010 that the first settlement checks were sent out in those lawsuits.
Although a variety of reforms have been put into place over the past decade, one of the most interesting was a little-known change to Providence's licensing requirement for club bouncers. Previously, bouncers had been trained in dealing with drunken customers and breaking up fights. Now, part of their training includes emergency crowd control.
WPRI recently interviewed a trainer who was teaching student bouncers about how to sense panic and what to do about it.
"We have to teach them, remember, in an emergency, all bets are off, every exit is open, everyone is brought towards there," said the owner of the Colosseum, who supports the training.
At least one of the student bouncers, who can earn a certificate after the four-hour course, knew people involved in the Station fire. After that, the idea of safety as a top priority hit home.
Will changes like the bouncers' emergency crowd control training make a difference? It almost undoubtedly will. The costs of a major fire, when measured by premises liability and other claims that quantify the injuries and losses of the victims and their families, are substantial. That cost is estimated that nearly $175 million in legal settlements. When measured in pure human terms, a four-hour course on panic prevention and orderly evacuation are well worth the extra effort.