The nightclub, is an aged small wood structure in Rhode Island. The club is reported to have a capacity of 182 people. On February 20th 2003, more then 400 fans packed into the small club to see a band. Although there are discrepancies between reports of how many people were in attendance, it is obvious that the number is well over twice the club's capacity. During the performance, as part of the act, pyrotechnics were deployed. The pyrotechnics were gerbs. Gerbs are cylindrical devices that are designed to make a spray of 15-foot plumes of sparks for 15 seconds. Gerbs are befitting for use indoors, as long as the appropriate precautions are taken. The pyrotechnics ignited a polyurethane (egg crate foam) material that is used for
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The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) published a report that identified three factors that lead to the rapidly spreading fire, building failure, and the excessive loss of life. These three factors are: (1) "The hazardous mix of building contents, (2) An inadequate capability to suppress the fire early, and (3) The inability of exits to handle the egress of all of the occupants in the short time available with such a fast-growing fire." As mentioned previously, all three of these factors do seem to have played vital roles. From this report, we are first and foremost reminded of the need for building materials that are not highly flammable, and that do not create toxic fumes when ignited. Additionally, the need for sufficient and well marked exits and staff to point patrons in the direction of these exits is critical. We are also reminded of the essential need for adequate fire suppression systems—for example, sprinkler systems and fire extinguishers.
Fire Chief Charlie Hall of the West Warwick Fire Department has noted that because the club was a small wooden structure and was not required by safety regulations to have a sprinkler system. However, when he was asked if a sprinkler system would have helped in this situation, he said, "If there were sprinklers in this building, we wouldn't be here right now." From what we know of the fire, it seems unlikely that the "staffing up" of more fire fighters would have made a difference.