On February 20, 2003 Rob Feeney’s life changed forever when the Station Nightclub fire, the fourth deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history broke out during the Great White concert he was attending with his fiancee, Donna Mitchell. Rob was able to escape with burns to his body, but unfortunately Donna did not make it out alive. Fire responder Peter Ginaitt responded to the Station Fire in Rhode Island where 100 concert goers including Rob’s fiancee lost their lives. Rob and Peter joined me on the 10th anniversary of the horrible tragedy to discuss the fire and what they’re hoping to accomplish.
Candace Rose: Rob, exactly 10 years ago today you lost your fiancee to the fourth deadliest fire in U.S. history. Can you tell us about the fire and how you managed to escape?
Rob Feeney: “The fire started in the first song of Great White’s set when they took the stage and they set off pyro in the left and right of the drummer’s alcove, which set fire on soundproofing foam that line the walls. Within about a minute a fire spread to the ceiling and then went straight across the ceiling to the far side of the club, essentially trapping everybody within the walls of the fire. The club quickly filled with superheated smoke over 1400 degrees, and people began burning, melting, suffocating from the smoke and I got knocked over. In the crowd I got separated from my fiancee, it was a small room in the front where they used to have pool tables, which is literally one step down so I had about seven or eight inches to breathe. And that is probably what saved me, was having that extra seven or eight inches. And I was able to crawl, I located my fiancee and she was unresponsive. I had to continue crawling to find a way out. I felt my way along a wall and felt a hole in the wall which allowed me to get into the parking lot.”
Candace Rose: Peter, you were a first responder who responded to the Station Nightclub Fire on February 20, 2003. If fire sprinklers would have made a difference, why are they missing from so many buildings today?
Peter Ginaitt: “It’s political will. It’s one of those things where it’s out of sight, out of mind. I think the nation needs to take a look at what Rhode Island did and not wait until their state is one of the locations of a tragedy. They need to have the will to go out and do this. We proved after the fire, the NFPA (the National Fire Protection Administration) actually went out there and recreated that entire venue and proved that two fire sprinklers would have totally extinguished that fire and we wouldn’t be here talking to Rob Feeney today and his life would have gone on. February 21st would have been more of an inconvenience when they got out of the building. We don’t want to see people inconvenienced like this. This is critical, and we’re not asking for a lot. We’re trying to appeal to the United States Congress to expand on the tax credit code section 179 and just allow for the full expensing out for certain equipment. They do it now for software. We incentivise and give tax credits for energy efficient hot water heaters and boilers. This is one of those things where we need to take a look at this is just more than equipment, but it is allowing for a safe environment for people to go into these businesses and protect the businesses. We lose 3200 civilian deaths a year, 100 firefighters and 18,000 injuries due to these fires. No firefighter has never been lost in a sprinklered building due to fire. I think those are telling and we just think that after 10 years that we really need to try and do everything we can to have this move along.”
Candace Rose: What is the new legislation being introduced on Capitol Hill?
Pete Ginaitt: “Well, it hasn’t been filed yet. They’re actually in the process of putting together. We expect it to be very similar to what has been filed over nine previous years. The sponsorship and the support of that and the co-sponsorship will probably remain the same other than new people that have been elected. We’re awaiting that to be put through and can give you more particulars after that. This isn’t just entertainment venues, these are these highrise residential facilities that we have in all of our neighborhoods in all of our states. Just allowing for the retrofitting of these venues and allowing them just to accelerate their depreciation schedules, in other words pay this back quicker which is very much a pro-business move. There is no mandate to this, it’s just merely adding it in so it can be fully expensed out.”
Candace Rose: And what can possibly be the downside to this?
Pete Ginaitt: “I wish we knew. Other than government being as large as it is, and I think they have to take a look at the overall ramifications of tax credit if you will. There is always a cost to them, there is a cost to everything, but I think we have to balance it up with the saving of lives. This isn’t a panacea, this is water on fire and we’ve proven with the Station fire that this recreation is effective. We know that. Every one of our states have seen firefighters lost to these tragic fires and we’ve seen lives that have been lost. I think we really need to listen and heed what it is we’re being educated on. I wouldn’t want to be the state that next has to step up and say we really should have done something.”
Candace Rose: Rob, what are you hoping to accomplish today?
Rob Feeney: “I’m hoping to get the word out not only on the sprinkler initiative, but really to have people be aware of their surroundings and let them know that any building that they’re in, it can happen. And you have to be familiar no matter how many times you’ve been in there. Can you get out if it gets bad? It’s not the door that you walked in, it’s how many other ways can I get out of this building. And most people aren’t that familiar with their surroundings that with the worst case scenario it’s complete darkness, it’s full of smoke, you’re on the floor crawling- do you know what direction to go? And without fire sprinklers you’re going to have to learn that very quick.”
Candace Rose: Where can viewers go for more information?
Rob Feeney: “They can go to FireAdvocates.org.”