The Story of the Great White Concert Fire Tragedy
A fire claimed 100 lives during a Great White show on Feb. 20, 2003 at the Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I. More than 200 others were also injured in a blaze caused by the band's pyrotechnic display.
Road manager Daniel Biechele set off the pyrotechnics during the opening number, as planned. The sparks unexpectedly ignited the foam used for soundproofing the ceiling of the club. The flames spread quickly, engulfing the club, and claiming the lives of many of those trying to escape.
Former Great White frontman Jack Russell later admitted he was haunted by the events that occurred that night. "My heart aches for all the families and friends of the victims whose lives will forever be changed by this terrible tragedy," he was quoted as saying on the 10th anniversary of the tragedy. "I too lost many friends that night, but I can’t begin to equate that to the loss of a family member. For what it’s worth, you have been in my prayers and always will be.”
Russell performed a benefit concert on Feb. 7, 2013 in commemoration of the tragedy, with all proceeds going to the victims families. In a sign of the pain and acrimony that still remained, however, the Station Fire Memorial Foundation refused to accept any money from Russell: "We feel the upset caused by his involvement would outweigh the amount of funds received."
Many of the surviving victims and the families of those killed felt Russell had not done enough to apologize or atone for his part in the tragedy. "Everyone would look at this differently if Jack Russell would stand up and say, ‘I’m sorry,'" Gina Russo, a concertgoer who was burned in the fire, explained to the Boston Globe.
Great White's Jack Russell Discusses the Station Nightclub Fire
When asked if he felt horrible about the tragedy in a 2013 interview with Rover Radio, Russell answered, "Of course I do." He went on to explain his reluctance to discuss the matter further: "I've said everything that I ever want to say about it, I've done a million interviews. ... Every time I say something, I hurt somebody ... I just prefer not to talk about it. It was a horrible thing that happened."
The brothers who owned the nightclub, Jeff and Michael Derderian, were found guilty of one hundred counts of involuntary manslaughter, and have used varying charitable methods to atone for the disaster. Representing the families of the deceased, lawyer John Barylick negotiated a $176 million civil settlement from, as he put it, "the persons and corporations responsible for the fire."
Biechele pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to four years in prison for his role in the tragedy. He sent a handwritten letter of apology to each of the families affected by the fire. Partially in return for this openness and admission of responsibility, many of those same families publicly supported his early parole, which was granted about halfway through his sentence.
In 2021, the Derderians gave an interview to 48 Hours, explaining, for the first time, their side of what happened. In that conversation, they claimed that Great White's contract did not mention the use of pyrotechnics, that the fire marshal had not performed the venue's required tests and that the company who supplied the nightclub with what was supposed to be noise-cancelling foam, had accidentally sent them highly-flammable packing foam instead.While the accuracy of these claims was debated by other parties, there's no doubt a multitude of factors contributed to the tragedy.
In 2017, Station Fire Memorial Park was opened on the site where the nightclub once stood. Throughout the park, each of the fire's victims are honored by name, while tributes also thank the first responders for their life-saving efforts that night.