The 20th anniversary of one of the deadliest building fires in U.S. history is fast approaching. Sunday, Feb. 19, will mark 20 years since a fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick left an indelible mark on the entire Southern New England community. Pyrotechnics used in a concert by the 80s band Great White set a backdrop ablaze and the fire quickly spread. When security for the group turned concertgoers away from using the back door to flee, many of the 400 in attendance headed for the front door, jamming the principal means of escape. When firefighters began removing the bodies of the 100 victims the next morning, they discovered that it appeared smoke inhalation and suffocation from the trampling had caused more deaths than the flames themselves.
At the time, I was working for another news outlet and was tasked with interviewing a variety of people for several stories on the impact of the tragedy on local families. Although the ages of those 100 who perished that cold night varied, many young people — mothers and fathers, sons and daughters — were lost. As a journalist, it’s never easy to approach the family of a victim to ask about the life once lived by their lost loved one, even for the noble purpose of documenting their stories to ensure that their memory lives on in the hearts and minds of those reading them.
I remember being invited by a family in Southeastern Massachusetts to sit at their kitchen table as they recounted the life lived by their daughter, as their own young granddaughter struggled to make sense of how her mother was no longer with them. She had, after all, just gone out for a concert. It was unfathomable to the little girl that her mother would never return. They called her the “Iron Butterfly,” as she had a fiercely determined spirit, and a heart of gold.
But the fire did more than impact only the families of the 100 victims, and the 200 who survived, but were injured. The tragedy also traumatized the first responders who rushed to the scene, firefighters, EMTs, nurses, doctors and police officers. It also traumatized the grieving members of communities across the region.
Recently, the Diocese of Providence was contacted by The Station Fire Memorial Park Foundation to raise awareness about the anniversary. Catholic parishes across the diocese have been invited to commemorate the anniversary in some capacity at their parish. Some of these options could include offering Masses or moments of silence for the peaceful repose of the deceased victims of the tragedy. Tolling the church bells at the conclusion of Holy Mass, or at another opportune time, or inserting special intentions during the General Intercessions are other ways that some parishes could mark the anniversary.
St. Kevin Church, 333 Sandy Lane, Warwick, will commemorate the anniversary with “Keeping our promise ... we will never forget,” on Sunday, Feb. 19 at 10 a.m. Coadjutor Bishop Richard G. Henning will preside at the Mass, and St. Kevin Pastor Father Robert Marciano, chaplain of the Warwick police and fire departments, will serve as homilist. Survivor Gina Russo and families of the victims will participate, along with first responders and some local leaders. Those who cannot attend are encouraged to offer prayers for the victims, their families and all affected by the tragedy.
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