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Echoes of the past: Rhode Island victims 'can't help but watch'

By Ed Payne, CNN
updated 11:03 AM EST, Mon January 28, 2013
  • 100 concertgoers died in 2003 Rhode Island nightclub fire
  • Gina Russo lost her fiance in the blaze and was seriously burned
  • Dave Kane's 18-year-old son was the youngest victim
  • More than 200 people have been killed in a club fire in southern Brazil, authorities say

(CNN) -- The music was pounding, the lights pulsing.

The concertgoers, who packed the club, were rocking with wild abandon to the sound of the band on stage.

But the party quickly turned to horror as flames sparked by pyrotechnics swept up the walls and across the ceiling.

This wasn't the Kiss nightclub in southern Brazil, where more than 230 souls lost their lives Sunday.

It was The Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island, where 100 were killed during a show by '80s heavy metal band Great White.

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Hundreds dead in Brazil nightclub fire
Brazilian reporter: People were running

For survivors of that February night fire in 2003, the Sunday blaze in Santa Maria brought back memories of their own brush with death.

Photos: Hundreds dead in Brazil nightclub fire

"I can't help but watch because I'm one of them," Gina Russo told CNN affiliate WPRI-TV. "It's just devastating that someone else has to experience it."

Russo suffered serious burns in the fire, but the flames claimed the life of her fiance, Fred Crisostomi.

A sad sense of deja vu

In the years since the blaze, Station fire survivors have felt the same sadness numerous times:

In December 2004, when 194 people were killed in a nightclub fire in Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires;

In December 2008, when fireworks triggered a fire and panic at a nightclub in Perm, Russia, killing 156 people;

And in January 2009, when a New Year's Eve blaze at a Bangkok club claimed 64 lives.

Now, the reality of another such tragedy tears at the heart of Dave Kane, whose 18-year-old son Nicky was the youngest victim of the Station fire.

"It hasn't stopped. Nobody has learned anything," he told CNN affiliate WJAR-TV. "What else do you need to get through to somebody? I don't know what that is."

Sunday, The Station Fire Memorial Foundation offered its condolences and sympathies to those affected by the fire in Brazil.

"The loss of life and injuries sustained are almost too heartbreaking to comprehend," a statement from the organization said. "One cannot help but notice the similarities between this tragedy and the Station nightclub fire that occurred nearly ten years ago."

Read more: 3 arrested in deadly Brazil nightclub fire

Fire brings changes

The Station fire brought changes to Rhode Island law, requiring sprinklers at buildings that can house more than 150 people and limiting pyrotechnics.

The nightclub had had no sprinklers, and the foam used to deaden sound in the venue was highly flammable.

Michael and Jeffrey Derderian, the two brothers who owned the club, pleaded no contest to 100 counts each of involuntary manslaughter.

A judge sentenced Michael Derderian to four years in prison, but spared Jeffrey Derderian jail time with a suspended sentence. He received 500 hours of community service.

Changes were made nationally, too.

The fire prompted many states to pass laws forbidding pyrotechnics in nightclubs, mandating sprinklers and the presence of at least one trained crowd manager.

Read more: How to stay safe

Living in the aftermath

For Russo and Kane, the years have taught them that time -- lots of time -- can sometimes gradually heal the emotional wounds.

It's "astounding pain, and your entire life gets completely mangled," said Kane, who wrote a book after the fire called "41 Signs of Hope."

"Only through the grace of faith and hope can you mange to pull yourself out and live again to start anew, because the sun does come up the next day."

Russo also penned a book after the tragedy: "From the Ashes, Surviving the Station Nightclub Fire."

"You can heal from it," she said. "It just takes time and patience and to know you're not alone."

John Barylick, an attorney who represented victims in wrongful death and personal injury cases arising from the fire, knows the pain well, too.

"In coming days, Rhode Islanders will follow the unfolding news from Brazil with a sense of queasy deja vu -- the rising body counts, the victim identification process, the grieving families, and the assigning (and dodging) of blame," he said. "If only they had learned from our tragedy."

"No concert is worth your life."

Deadly blazes: Nightclub tragedies in recent history

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