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Commerce's NIST Launches Investigation into Rhode Island Nightclub Fire

The Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) today launched an investigation into the tragic fire of Feb. 20, 2003, at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I. The work is being conducted under the authorities of the National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Act. NIST will lead a team of public and private-sector fire and safety experts to carry out the investigation.

Under the act, NIST is responsible for conducting fact-finding investigations of building-related failures that result in substantial loss of life.

The team's primary objectives will be to:

  • determine the conditions in the nightclub prior to the fire, such as the materials of construction and contents; the location and conditions of doors, windows and ventilation; the installed fire protection systems; the number of occupants and their approximate locations;
  • reconstruct the fire ignition, fire spread and survivability within the building using computer models;
  • examine the impact on survivability of having an installed sprinkler system, all other conditions being the same; and
  • analyze the emergency evacuation and occupant responses to better understand the impediments to safe egress.

The NIST investigation will be conducted in close cooperation with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF); the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA); the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA); and state and local fire and law enforcement agencies.

The decision to launch the NIST investigation was made following an onsite evaluation conducted Feb. 22-23, 2003, by two NIST fire researchers, and discussions with other investigators on the scene in Rhode Island.

The NIST investigation could result in recommendations for specific changes to building codes, standards and practices.

Pursuant to Section 13 of the NCST Act, no part of any report resulting from this investigation shall be admitted as evidence or used in any suit or action for damages arising out of any matter mentioned in such a report. Additionally, NIST employees are not permitted to serve as expert witnesses.

More information about the NCST may be found online

As a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce's Technology Administration, NIST develops and promotes measurement, standards and technology to enhance productivity, facilitate trade and improve the quality of life.

Released February 27, 2003, Updated January 13, 2023