The sparks from the gerbs immediately ignited the "egg-crate” foam the owners had glued to the walls and ceiling surrounding the stage to provide sound deadening to appease the neighbors of the club. Extremely overcrowded, the club held an estimated 462 occupants.

The concert goers had to jam their way through non-code conforming exits. As a matter of interest, someone visiting the site of The Station nightclub and looking at the footprint of the building would immediately ask, "How could so many people occupy such a small building?”

Most of us in the fire protection engineering profession have, at one time or another, read a report about a fire to determine what we could learn from the incident. In fact, we know that after large-loss fire the building and fire codes usually change. Moreover, these changes normally occur because we did not anticipate how the fire happened or why it grew so large or so fast.

But, ineffective codes did not influence the severity of The Station fire. According to the author, John Balyrick, it happened due to the greed and arrogance of the club’s owners, ineptness and negligence of the band responsible for the pyrotechnics, and ineffective administration and enforcement of the existing codes and standards, as well as ineffective training of the inspectors responsible to enforce those codes and standards.

Barylick, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs’ steering committee, provides insight to the history of the small state of Rhode Island (pop. 1.051 million in 2011) as well as West Warwick (pop. just over 29,000 in 2010) and the club itself. He describes "how things get done” in the state, the interconnectedness of all the people involved, putting a human face to not only the survivors but also to those who created or allowed the conditions that ultimately resulted in the deaths of 100 people.

Barylick walks the reader through the legal system in Rhode Island as it was at the time just after the fire and describes the frustrations of the survivors at not getting justice when those that injured or killed their loves ones, with one exception, walked free or with minimal punishment from the justice system.

In addition Barylick describes how the plaintiff’s fire investigation team helped the legal team who, in turn, served the survivors of the fire. You will find that it takes not only keen legal minds to develop a case resulting from a fire, but a relentless fire investigation team combing over the facts and evidence uncovered during their investigation long after the initial investigators gave what they thought were all the answers.

As with any tragedy of this magnitude, we always question how this could happen today. The author clearly and convincingly explains why this fire happened and why the results developed as they did. In addition, in a manner that teaches the importance of the process, he brings the reader through the development of the civil litigation after the criminal proceedings ended. In Barylick’s own words:

"...the tragedy spurred improvements to Rhode Island’s fire code...To their credit, Rhode Island lawmakers ended the pernicious practice of ‘grandfathering’ older places of public assembly that do not meet current code, requiring sprinklers in all gathering spaces with occupancies over 300, regardless of their vintage. This change alone may prove lifesaving for future generations.”

Of course the question begs, why did we wait for this tragedy to happen to make the decision to be more fire safe?

A makeshift memorial to all those who died has been established on the site of The Station nightclub and marks the location of this horrific tragedy. After years of discussion, the owner of the site has agreed to donate it to the Station Fire Memorial Foundation so they may erect a permanent memorial. Other memorials serve to remind us of this tragedy at St. Ann’s Cemetery in Cranston, R.I. and in neighboring Warwick, R.I.

This book should be required reading for anyone in, or planning to enter, the fire protection engineering profession. In a clearly readable and understandable fashion, this book shows how things go wrong seemingly from "insignificant” decisions. If you are a student, read this book. If you are a long-term professional, read this book. And then when you go about your everyday work in our profession, remember this book and what it taught you.

Review by Wayne D. Moore, P.E., FSFPE