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NIST Station Nightclub Fire Investigation: Physical Simulation of the Fire



Daniel M. Madrzykowski, Nelson P. Bryner, Stephen Kerber


A fire occurred on the night of February 20, 2003, at The Station Nightclub located in West Warwick, Rhode Island. A band that was performing that night, during its performance, used pyrotechnics that ignited foam insulation lining the walls and part of the ceiling of the platform being used as a stage. Based on a video from a news camera operator who was present at the time of the fire, the fire spread quickly along the ceiling area over the dance floor. Smoke was visible in the exit doorways in a little more than one minute, and flames were observed breaking through a portion of the roof in less than five minutes. Egress from the nightclub was hampered by crowding at the main entrance to the building. One hundred people lost their lives in the fire, and hundreds were injured. Engineers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST) Building and Fire Research Laboratory arrived at the fire scene within 48 hours to provide a reconnaissance report to the NIST director. Based on that report, NIST, under the authority of the National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Act, established an NCST to determine the likely technical cause or causes of the building failure that led to the high number of casualties in that fire. The complete NCST report that documents the procedures, experiments, studies, findings, and recommendations of the investigative team can be downloaded from lub . The focus of this article is an overview of the physical testing and computational modeling that was conducted to develop an understanding of the fire growth and spread in the nightclub, the development of untenable conditions, and the potential impact of fire sprinklers on both the fire and conditions inside the night club. This part of the article will provide an overview of the incident, the investigation, and the full-scale fire testing. This article will also address the computer modeling that was used in the investigation and the effect that sprinklers, if they were installed, would have had.
Fire Protection Engineering Journal
No. 31


fire investigations, building fires, computer models, fire growth, impact, large scale fire tests, simulation, fire spread, sprinklers, experiments, fuels, polyurethane foam, cone calorimeters, heat release, interior finishes, pyrotechnics, scale models, instruments, tenability limits, computer simulation, vents, smoke spread, temperature, oxygen


Madrzykowski, D. , Bryner, N. and Kerber, S. (2006), NIST Station Nightclub Fire Investigation: Physical Simulation of the Fire, Fire Protection Engineering Journal, [online], (Accessed June 20, 2024)


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Created June 1, 2006, Updated February 19, 2017