Rescue workers arriving at February’s deadly nightclub fire met a horrific scene, describing a “stampede” and “people on fire inside,” tapes released Thursday show.
“We have multiple people trapped. We’re just dragging them out, one by one,” one rescue worker says.
“We’ve got a stampede,” says another on the recordings, released by Attorney General Patrick Lynch after a judge ordered that they be made public.
“We need multiple rescues,” another says.
The Feb. 20 fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick killed 100 people and injured about 200 others as many concertgoers became trapped when they scrambled for the same exit.
Rescue workers arrived three minutes after they received the alarm, a fire report released Thursday shows. In the initial minutes on scene, the workers called for more help as they realized the extent of the tragedy.
“We are fully engulfed, fully engulfed building. We have people on fire inside,” says one man.
Another says, there’s “at least 100 inside.”
Screams and shouting can be heard in the background of the recordings. Many of the rescue workers do not identify themselves by name as they call in for more assistance. Standard police chatter and codes are used throughout the tapes.
Jody King, whose brother, Tracy, died in the fire, said Thursday it was wrong to have released the tapes and make the rescue workers and public rehash the events of that night.
“I saw the horrible things that those firemen and policemen went through,” said King, who happened to arrive to the nightclub as the fire started. “I watched a fireman pull off someone’s hand; it came off in his hands.”
The 3 1/2 hours of recordings include 277 telephone calls and radio communications made or taken by the West Warwick Police Department’s dispatchers.
Among them are conversations between police, firefighters and other emergency workers, as well as media inquiries. They do not include calls made by club patrons or other civilians. By law, 911 calls are not public information in Rhode Island.
The transmissions’ release was ordered Wednesday by Kent County Superior Court Judge Mark Pfeiffer. The order came in response to a lawsuit filed in March by The Providence Journal seeking more information about what happened at The Station.
Attorneys for the newspaper and the state had spent months working on an agreement to release documents that would not interfere with a criminal investigation into the blaze, which also injured about 200 people. That agreement was approved Wednesday by the judge’s ruling.
“I think it’s important The Providence Journal obtain this information,” Pfeiffer said.
Messages left Thursday with West Warwick fire chiefs and town manager seeking comment on the release were not immediately returned. But Police Chief Peter Brousseau said the tapes “are a testimony to the heroic efforts of the men and women of the West Warwick Police Department. There’s no question in my mind that their response saved lives.”
West Warwick Town Solicitor Tim Williamson had objected to releasing the transmissions, saying the information could affect the town’s right to a fair trial. The town has been named in several lawsuits.
The Attorney General’s Office said eight of the recordings were edited to delete some sensitive information, such as the identification of victims or phone numbers.
A grand jury is investigating the fire, which started when pyrotechnics ignited highly flammable foam that had been placed around the club’s stage as soundproofing. Thick smoke quickly spread through the one-story wooden building, trapping patrons as they tried to flee.