The Station Nightclub fire is one of the most horrifying tragedies to take place in the United States. A fire started by sheer incompetence at best, that in under ninety seconds consumed the building and with it, over ninety lives.
But what is amazing about this book is how it details the fact that the fire wasn't just a regrettable, heart wrenching mistake but the result of corruption, laziness, and greed. The building eventually known simply as The Station went through several transformations, with each successive owner cutting a new corner. The owners at the time of the fire, the Derderian brothers, were notorious for paying their workers under the table, making those workers get through their shifts in the blistering cold with no heater because it was too expensive to run, and various other crimes brought on by extreme cheapness.
But the Derderian brothers can't shoulder the blame alone. Their neighbor, a man who had the misfortune of living in a house next to a nightclub, constantly complained about noise. When the Derderians visited to try to work something out, the neighbor sold them sound proofing foam that the company claimed was fire resistant. None of this was true. They put it up over the old cheap foam the first owner had affixed to the walls, ignoring suggestions from others that they buy actual fire resistant foam. So not only are the Derderians cheap, their neighbor is in essence a con man profiting off the sale of dangerous foam (funny note: one of the brothers was a news anchor who at one point referred to this type of foam as "solid gasoline" in a safety special).
Then you have the fire inspector, who kept upping the capacity of the building until a whopping four hundred and four people were allowed inside a space where each human had less than five feet of room to stand. When The Station was a restaurant, the capacity was under two hundred.
And then there are the pyrotechnics. The club approved them, the band Great White shot them off, and both parties knew or should have known that they were illegal without an inspection. But because the type of pyro used was cheap, and because the Derderians wanted to rile up the crowd, they were used. Once the super heated metal shavings hit the foam, the place went up with such swift, ravenous flames that mere seconds could mean the difference between life and death.
Another note I thought was interesting was Jack Russel (leader of Great White) claiming he kept going back in to the blaze to rescue people, but kept getting "pulled out." This reminded me of people claiming to have survived 9/11 when they did nothing of the sort. I wonder what the psychological components of these false claims are. Something I should read about next, perhaps.
This is an illuminating, infuriating book and is a great look at the corruption of a small town. I recommend it. It is also written by one of the lawyers involved after the fact and includes interesting legal wranglings set out in plain language.