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Statement on the Progress of NIST's Rhode Island Nightclub Fire Investigation

July 17, 2003

Media Contact: Michael E. Newman, (301) 975-3025, michael.newman@nist.gov

The Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) reported today on the progress made in its technical investigation of the tragic fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I., on Feb. 20, 2003. The purpose of the NIST investigation—being conducted under the authority of the National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Act—is to establish the likely technical cause or causes of the building failure that led to 100 deaths.

The NIST team is coordinating its efforts with other federal agencies, including the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and also is establishing liaisons with appropriate local and Rhode Island state agencies.

At the conclusion of its investigation, the NIST team will recommend, as necessary, specific improvements to building standards, codes and practices based upon its findings, and will recommend any research and other appropriate actions needed to improve the structural fire safety of buildings and evacuation procedures.

Among the accomplishments to date in the NIST Rhode Island investigation are the following:

  • A preliminary computer reconstruction of the fire has been developed using NIST’s smoke and fire behavior modeling software. The model simulates the fire spread and smoke movement through the nightclub. The NIST team is actively seeking more data about the fire in order to refine the model and improve the ability to accurately portray the events of Feb. 20, 2003.

  • A solicitation is being prepared for a team of outside experts that will document the evacuation from The Station on the night of the fire, determine the role of the life safety features at the nightclub in assisting safe egress, and compare/contrast the evacuation and its outcome to other similar scenarios. Video and photographic records, field data, interviews, and other oral and written accounts from building occupants, emergency responders and other witnesses will allow a timeline of the events to be constructed.

  • A solicitation has been issued for a team of outside experts to (1) determine the criteria and requirements that governed the design, construction and modification of the structural and fire safety systems of The Station nightclub; and (2) document the operating and maintenance practices and procedures in use for these systems prior to the fire.

  • An effort is under way to collect data on the emergency response to the events at The Station nightclub with the help of the USFA and the local fire department. This effort will document procedures and operation of equipment and function of communications systems, on-site emergency information systems, fire alarm panels, standpipes and fire hoses, and other emergency equipment.