WEST WARWICK —The sounds of music returned Sunday to the site of the fourth deadliest fire in the nation’s history, as a memorial to the 100 whose lives were lost on a cold February night 14 years ago was dedicated on a warm, late spring afternoon through song and reflection.
More than 500 people filled the neatly manicured grounds of the half-acre memorial site, which was completed through the generosity of many who contributed their time, talent and financial resources to the project, including more than 100 churches, synagogues, mosques and houses of worship who through an effort organized by the Rhode Island State Council of Churches took up a special collection in support of the project. Faithful from churches in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence donated more than $40,000.
The entrance to Station Fire Memorial Park is marked by a pair of stone columns and a sign above which is inscribed with a dove, signifying the special place as one of peace and serenity.
Those passing through walked upon red bricks inscribed with the names of those who contributed their part to the $2 million overall effort, including several Catholic parishes across the diocese.
While the memorial is an ode to the 100 who perished here on February 20, 2003, when pyrotechnics designed to accompany a concert being staged by the band Great White ignited a fire that quickly consumed the building, it also celebrates the living — the survivors, surviving family members and first responders and medical workers who demonstrated tremendous heroism in the face of an epic tragedy, as well as the neighbors and nearby business owners who did their part to help.
Among the many dignitaries speaking during the dedication ceremony, including Governors Gina Raimondo and Don Carcieri — who led the state at the time of the crisis — Father Robert Marciano, longtime chaplain of the Warwick Fire Department, delivered a tribute to the first responders from across the area whom he said “earned their pay for their entire career that night.”
“It was a night like any other, a festive club filled with laughter and fun, a group of good and hard-working people enjoying a night of music together,” Father Marciano said. “But as we all know, it would be a night that would always be remembered.”
“We stand here today some 14 years later, basking in the sunshine sent to us, I am sure, by a hundred angels above us and watching it all, on a ground made holy by them, those who perished here. We remember their good souls, their happy faces, now etched into the granite of this monument, but more importantly etched into our hearts and into our lives.”
Father Marciano spoke of how the first responders facing chaos beyond belief went to work, beginning the longest and most difficult emergency call they will likely ever have to answer.
“Their clear thinking, compassion kindness and heroic actions saved many lives and brought order to chaos,” he said.
“As one who witnessed it all firsthand, from those very first moments when it all began, I stand before you today to say that these words, any words, fall short to express our deepest gratitude to them all, our heroes.”
The memorial is a combination of green space and concrete gathering areas, each containing a circular granite bench, with the outline of an old 45 rpm record adapter at its’ center. Surrounding the clusters of seating areas are granite markers resembling stage amplifiers, each inscribed with the name and likeness of one of the fire victims.
Many tears were shed as the names of the victims, and the cities and towns where they resided was read.
“Our hearts go out to them, it was such a terrible loss,” Marilyn Diamonte, a parishioner at St. Mary Church on Broadway in Providence, said of the families of those lost. She attended the memorial dedication along with her husband Manny.
Brianna Manzo, 24, whose mother Judith Manzo perished in the fire, said the site’s transformation has made the spot a place where she can now come to remember her mother in peace.
“Before it was gloomy and dark and it felt like nobody really cared, but now it feels like people care,” she said.
Amy Parravano, a friend of radio broadcaster Dave Kane, who lost his son, Nicholas O’Neil, 18, in the fire, said she appreciated that through the ceremony, respect was shown to the dead by also honoring those who live on without them.
“The survivors should know that whatever happened that day their loved ones passed away doing what they love to do best and enjoying the music. Their spirit is here and beyond and lives on in the music,” she said.
Tim Miceli traveled from Norwich, Connecticut, to sit by the memorial created for his brother, Samuel A. Miceli Jr., who died in the fire at the age of 37, along with his girlfriend Jude Henault.
“I thought they did a beautiful job,” said Miceli, of the memorial.
He said he still very much misses his brother and will come back to the site as often as he can to remember him here.
“He liked his music, he loved motorcycles and he really loved his niece and nephew,” Miceli said.
Gina Russo, who survived the fire despite being critically injured with severe burns covering 50 percent of her body, lost her then-fiance, Fred Crisostomi — a parishioner at St. Matthew Church in Cranston — in the blaze. Russo serves as president of the Station Fire Memorial Foundation.
“It’s been a long 14 years, I can tell you that,” she said of the project.
She paid tribute to her family, especially her sons Alex and Nick, whom she described as her reasons for living.
She expressed a special word of thanks to the 100 students from West Warwick’s John F. Deering Middle School who each held high a rose as the names of the 100 fire victims was read.
“A tragedy happened on this site but you can rise above anything that no matter how hard life becomes, stop, think about it, breathe and rise above it, because I promise you, life is really, really good,” Russo said, directing her words at the youngsters.
Those were the thoughts on her mind 14 years ago when she thought she’d never survive with all the injuries and the pain. But she surrounded herself with good people and willed her way forward.
“The fire could have sunk me, but I didn’t let it.”