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CNN BREAKING NEWS

News Conference on Nightclub Fire

Aired February 21, 2003 - 07:16   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've been on the scene all night, and they'll try to update you to where we are, and answer some of your questions. I will tell you that I'm not going to have them very long. The fire chief needs to get back over to the fire scene, and the police chief needs to do his work. So, we're going to give you about 10 minutes, and then we'll need to go. Thank you.

QUESTION: Chief, maybe you can start with just an update on the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in terms of bodies that you've found, and what's happening over there right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have 39 confirmed fatalities. We have 39 confirmed fatalities. We're still in the process of searching the rubble for other victims.

QUESTION: Do you expect that number to go up?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfortunately I do.

QUESTION: Any idea of how many, based on people who are accounted for and who aren't accounted for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Accountability here has been very difficult, and I can't give you a number at this time. I don't know.

QUESTION: Where is the majority of bodies? Are they massed near the exits?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The majority were at the front exit with some at one of the rear exits and some along the inside of the dance floor.

QUESTION: What does that tell you about how fast the fire must have spread that so many people were trapped inside?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fire spread very quickly.

QUESTION: Chief, can you sort of give us the scenario that's developed so far, the preliminary scenario (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? What appears to have happened here (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a live band performance in progress, and my knowledge is that there was a small pyrotechnics display taking place at the beginning of their performance, and we believe that that may have been the origin of the fire.

QUESTION: How are the firefighters holding up?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The firefighters are holding up as well as can be expected under these circumstances.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The entire alarm assignment, the first and second alarm assignment that responded to this fire have been relieved of duty. And we have help -- well-appreciated help from all of the surrounding cities and towns.

QUESTION: Chief, when was the last time they were inspected, the last time there was a fire inspection here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The building passed its annual fire code inspection as of December 31 of last year.

QUESTION: Pardon me, the people couldn't hear you over here.

QUESTION: Say that again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The building passed its last fire code compliance inspection in order to get their liquor license renewed as of December 31 of last year. They had several minor violations that were taken care of, and once they were inspected, they met all of our requirements.

QUESTION: What about a pyrotechnics license?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A pyrotechnics license was not applied for through the town to my knowledge -- and Chief Brousseau may be able to back that -- nor was it applied for through the state.

QUESTION: So then they shouldn't have been using those (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at all?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's correct.

QUESTION: So you believe they did not have a license that would have been required, is that correct?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's my understanding. That's correct.

QUESTION: And one is required?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's correct.

QUESTION: So, what type -- we're hearing reports that the wall started on fire. Why would walls catch on fire? Was there something hanging on the walls, or what? How could that happen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just the structural framing, the paneling, and there was some sound proofing as well on the walls that caught fire.

QUESTION: Made of foam? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not quite sure what the substance is.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) thick, black smoke very fast filled up the room. Is that the case?

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That would follow what the type of material that was burning in addition to the paneling in the overhead suspended ceiling.

QUESTION: So, how long do you think it took for this fire to engulf the building?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The building was well involved inside of three minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Were you called back to check any restrooms?

HALL: The sprinkler system, there is no sprinkler system in the building. The square footage of the building did not require one. There was a working alarm system, and all the fire exits were functioning.

QUESTION:: How much longer do you think it will take before you have an assessment of exactly how many people were injured?

HALL: We will be here all of today, I would surmise. We have to dig through the rubble very slowly.

QUESTION:: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) fire engines?

HALL: Four.

QUESTION:: What about sprinklers?

HALL: I just answered that question. OK.

QUESTION:: We can't hear back there.

HALL: The square footage of the building does not require that it be sprinkled.

QUESTION:: What was the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

HALL: A (UNINTELLIGIBLE) capacity for last night's show was 200. They have actually two occupancy capacities, whether they have tables and pool tables and their games. And when they move them outside, which they did, for expanded dancing and entertainment, they can have up to 300 people in the building.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know how many they had?

HALL: There were actually less than 300 in the building. Yes.

QUESTION:: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

HALL: I don't know at that time. The accountability's been very difficult to try find exactly how many we had.

QUESTION:: How many -- what is the capacity?

HALL: The capacity for this venue was 300.

QUESTION:: How many do you believe they had there last night?

HALL: Under 300 is the best I can tell you right now. We're still trying to get an exact number.

QUESTION:: Has the band played there before and they're used pyrotechnics?

HALL: This band, to my knowledge, has never played here before.

QUESTION:: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) by any troubles similar to Chicago getting out, or simply the fire itself?

HALL: The contributing -- the main contributing factor was the fire itself, that it moved so quickly and again, human nature being what it is and many of these people, it was the first time they'd -- I would surmise, the first time they'd ever been here. They tried to go out the same way they came in. And that was the problem.

QUESTION:: And how they -- what might they have done better?

HALL: Used the other three fire exits.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There were people trampled and then did that (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

HALL: To a degree, yes.

QUESTION:: Can you talk a little bit about the materials that you say were starting and people were overcome by the smoke?

HALL: Well, it would be inside paneling, the suspended ceiling, the tables that they did have in there, and the soundproofing for the band in back of the stage.

QUESTION:: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

HALL: That I don't know. I can't tell you.

QUESTION:: I have a question for the chief of police. What role is your department taking now in this investigation?

CHIEF PETER BROUSSEAU, WEST WARWICK, R.I., POLICE DEPARTMENT: We have -- We've started an initial investigation. We're in the process of interviewing patrons in the club or band members that were in club working and employees of the club. We're being assisted by the state fire marshal's office and the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) attorney general's office. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you tell us if the club is owned by a gentleman named Jeff Sedarian (ph)?

BROUSSEAU: I can't either confirm or deny that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you spoken with the owners of the club?

BROUSSEAU: My detectives have spoken with the owners of the club. I have not personally. I'm not aware of what -- that's an ongoing interrogation that's going on, so I'm not...

QUESTION:: What's the potential criminal liability here?

BROUSSEAU: Initially, if the case is that there was not licensing for the pyrotechnics show, that is a violation of the law.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you think they did not have a license?

BROUSSEAU: Not to our knowledge.

QUESTION:: The lead singer told us that he asked the -- his manager probably asked the club, should we do it? And the club said yes. He went and did it.

BROUSSEAU: They need to be licensed by the state fire marshal for consent. At this time, it appears they were not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So would the club be equally -- would the band be equally as involved here as club officials?

BROUSSEAU: I don't want to point fingers at anyone at this point, but I think once our investigation is done, we'll have a clear picture as to who was at fault.

QUESTION:: Not the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

BROUSSEAU: That could be a possibility.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chief, can I ask, in a very respectful way, folks inside there, were they burned to death or was the situation of smoke inhalation?

HALL: We'll have to say yes to both.

QUESTION:: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) your investigation (UNINTELLIGIBLE) what does that tell you about what happened? What those who survived say. I know you're looking at the position of the bodies.

HALL: It speaks of the chaos and the panic that took place once these people were exposed to the fire.

QUESTION:: Chief, you said they had -- some fire violations? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) What would those fire violations be?

HALL: They were minor ones such as emergency exits -- emergency exit lights that weren't working. They needed to install new panic hardware. One of the exit doors. And they did comply with all those violations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chief, you mentioned it was pretty much in the crush where most of the people were found.

HALL: That's correct.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was it folks who were stampeded and not able to get out of that mass, that perished?

HALL: In some of the cases, I'm sure that's what happened. But not all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can we draw any general, overall conclusions by the big numbers of bodies that you see in this area? Does this tell you anything about how this tragedy worked?

HALL: Again, human nature being what it is, I would surmise that many of these people were first-time visitors to the Station Nightclub and, again, people would have a tendency to leave -- try to leave the same way they came in. And the average person wouldn't know that in this particular place, or any place, that there were other fire exits. They're just creatures of habit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where was the pyrotechnics show in relation to the front door? What's the space there to the front?

HALL: I would have to say 50 to 75 feet to the right and towards the back of the building.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And is there any sense as to why this thing went up so fast?

HALL: That's what we're investigating at this point.

QUESTION:: Do you think -- of the 30 people who died, did anyone die at the hospitals afterward, later, or were all the deaths inside the club?

HALL: We are not aware of any deaths after transport at this point.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the dead count rising as you further get inside?

HALL: It possibly could.

QUESTION:: Were firefighters able to get in and get anybody out when they arrived?

HALL: Yes. We affected approximately -- I'd say almost 100 rescues, assisting people out of the building.

QUESTION:: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) involved, based on the number of people that took part (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the hospital, could be higher, rising? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) exactly how high it could go?

HALL: Not at this time, I can't.

QUESTION:: What about firefighters? Any trouble, medical trouble, at all with firefighters fighting?

HALL: We've had five firefighters transported to the hospital with various injuries.

QUESTION:: Are they all right?

HALL: Yes.

QUESTION:: Chief, when you talked (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are there any lessons to be learned here?

HALL: The most general thing I would say is when you go into a place like this, particularly if it's your first time, take note of where the exits are. Don't necessarily migrate towards the one in which you went through. Take note of where the closest exit is to where you're sitting or standing or whatever.

QUESTION:: Given what you said about human nature and how fast this fire spread, was people's fate sealed? Or was there any way to avoid it?

HALL: Just -- same answer. Same answer.

QUESTION:: Were there any firefighters or police officers on duty here inside the club?

BROUSSEAU: There was a police officer on detail in the club.

QUESTION:: I hate to end it, but I want to send the fire chief back to do his job. I think what we're going to try to do is maybe at 12 p.m. give you an update. I'm not sure we want to do it right here, because the business needs to open, and we need to look at that.

But we'll try to do something at 12 p.m. and we'll let you know where we're going to do it.

QUESTION:: Names, please?

HALL: Charles. Last name is Hall. H-A-L-L.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you're the fire chief?

HALL: That's correct.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's your first name?

HALL: Charles.

BROUSSEAU: Peter Brousseau. B-R-O-U-S-S-E-A-U. Chief of police.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's your first name?

BROUSSEAU: Peter.

ANCHOR: For those of you just joining us, I'd like to recap for you what the Warwick police chief and fire chief have just confirmed to a national audience, that at least 39 are dead as a result of a nightclub fire that happened last night in that area.

You're looking at live pictures of -- provided by WCVB, our local affiliate in Boston right now.

The fire chief confirming that the majority of those victims were found at the front exits, the rear exits at the dance floor. He tried to make us understand just how quickly this fire spread, saying he believed the building was engulfed in just three minutes.

Now if you didn't see the scene that led to this, there was a pyrotechnics display accompanying the Great White rock concert at this concert last night. The police chief confirming that although a pyrotechnics license was required, one was not applied for.

You might also be asking why no water sprinklers in this building. According to the fire chief, they were not required because of the square footage of the building.

When asked, once again, why the fire spread so quickly, all the fire chief could say based on a preliminary investigation is that it was a combination of paneling and soundproof -- soundproofing behind the stage that apparently fueled this fire.

Once again, at least 39 dead. The police chief confirming all of those dead were found at the nightclub. It is his understanding that no one died once they were transported to area hospitals.

Now, let's talk about the condition of some of those patients that were transported. We know that at least 169 folks were transported to area hospitals, including Kent Hospital, which we understand is one of the closest to the club. Some of those victims being treated for first, second and third-degree burns at this hour.

Right now, we're going to turn to WPRI, that has one of the victims -- will be talking with.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The ceiling was spreading -- the fire was spreading and it's, like, this isn't right. And then, of course, me and my friends tried to get out, as well as a lot of other people tried to get out. So it was kind of hectic inside, everybody trying to get out at one time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, was it a stampede? Were you pushed around and just almost run over by all the people trying to get out?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everything was OK until somebody tried to hop over my head. And then a bunch of us pretty much got knocked down. And I was halfway out of the building. And then a gentleman was trying to pull his girlfriend and me both out, because I was on her. And finally got us both free.

And then another young lady actually helped pull me all the way out to the bars. Pulled myself out and then under the bars and onto the parking lot. And then somebody picked me up and headed me in the right direction to get away from the building.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you were with your two girlfriends at this club, and how are they doing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're both doing good. They're doing really good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good. Good to hear.

Now, were the exits clearly marked? Were you able to -- did you know what direction to head?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I did because I've been in the club numerous times, and I've seen shows there before. So I knew where all three exits were.

As far as being marked, I really couldn't tell you, because I've never really looked, because I already knew where they were. So I really couldn't tell you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, have you talked to your family? I know you mentioned you did speak to your husband. You have two young kids. How are they doing? Have they spoken to you yet today?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I haven't had a chance to speak to my kids today, but I did speak to my mom last night, and she knows I'm OK. And my friends know I'm OK, so...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, Laurie (ph), I know this is a tough subject, but do you feel comfortable telling us at all about your injuries. I know this is a very traumatic time, but do you feel at all comfortable telling us about them?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure. They're little burns, but they're mostly second- to third-degree burns from being on the pile and the embers falling off the roof. I do believe it's mostly tar from the roof, so...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now when do you think you'll be able to head home? I know this is probably not where you want to be. You want to be with your family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When do doctors expect you to be able to get home?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They haven't really said anything yet to me. Maybe today, might be tomorrow. Could be a couple of days. I really don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now you have a TV in your room here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you've been looking at pictures all morning of what used to be the club. Now looking at those images, what's going through your mind, knowing that you were there in what used to be this club?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I -- I'm still in a state of shock, especially for the 20-something people and their families, that the people that didn't get out. And I'm grateful to be here. So as I look at those pictures, and I'm, like, I was just in that club and I can't believe it's gone. And I spent a lot of time in the club.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A lot of memories in that club?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yes. Yes. So we've seen a lot of good concerts there and stuff. So it was nice. And that, I was just overwhelmed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you're extremely lucky. There have been over 25 reported deaths due to the fire in this club.

So we want to thank you again for taking the time to talk to us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are in pain right now.

And this is Laurie Hussy (ph). She is from North Kingstown (ph) and she's hoping to get home soon to her family.

That's the latest here from -- from Kent County Hospital...

ZAHN: We dipped into WPRI's local college -- coverage there. One of our local affiliates. So that is the first eye witness account we've had from a patient, Laurie Hussy (ph), who's transported to a local hospital, being treated, as she said, for second- and third- degree burns, she said sustained from embers falling off a pile. She says some of her burns were caused by tar that actually came off the building.

Once again, the fire chief confirming at least 39 people dead. The police chief in the town saying he expected the fatality numbers to go up. Now most of those -- excuse me, all of those fatalities happened at the nightclub. To the fire chief and police chief's knowledge, no one died after being transported to area hospitals.

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