The front-page story for the February 21, 2003 edition of the Kent County Daily Times was supposed to trumpet the plan for a new senior center in town.
Dan Trafford – at the time holding the position of managing editor of the Times – was prepared to call it a night on February 20, 2003. The paper was put to bed, or so Trafford thought.
Then came a call from KCDT editorial assistant Michelle Carrier-Migliozzi. Trafford was heading into his apartment when alerted to a major development in West Warwick – one of the two communities where the newspaper circulates.
“She told me the Station [nightclub] was on fire,” said Trafford.
With all kinds of jarring thoughts swimming in his head, Trafford phoned the composing room at the Daily Times.
“If they’ve started the presses, stop them,” Trafford relayed. “There’s a big fire.”
The staff photographer (Greg Sousa) was en route. Trafford was joined by Daily Times reporter Ben Demers. A major snowstorm had fallen a few days prior … choking off and narrowing the roads that needed to be taken to reach a nightclub that had become engulfed in roaring flames.
Upon flashing his state police-issued press pass to an officer, Trafford parked in the lot of a restaurant off Cowesett Ave.
“All I could see was a galaxy of flashing lights,” he said. “It was really bad.”
Amidst the sheer panic that had gripped the area directly outside the Station, Trafford began gathering information for the new lead story that would replace the cover of the next day’s edition.
“I didn’t have to ask questions. People were running up to me to tell what had happened,” said Trafford, recalling one particular jarring sequence that sticks with him nearly two decades removed from a tragedy that still hits home for so many.
“I distinctly remember one girl wrapped in a blanket sitting on the loading dock of the Cowesett Inn … crying and crying,” said Trafford, noting that funeral directors were called and asked to dispatch hearses in response to the sight of so many people grabbing on side mirrors of ambulances in the hope of hitching a ride to the nearest hospital.
“People were running around with cell phones trying to contact loved ones. They weren’t responding probably because they were inside the Station.”
The 100 Station Fire Victims. The 230 Injured. Survivors. Family. Friends. First Responders. February 20, 2003 feels like it was yesterday & the pain of that day will never go away. We remember, grieve, & honor those we lost. pic.twitter.com/Me946GCMup
— Senator Jack Reed (@SenJackReed) February 20, 2022
It was then time to hightail it back to the Daily Times office and redo Page 1. Officially, the revamped front page featuring late-breaking news was shipped off to the presser at 12:30 a.m.
“The turnaround was surprisingly fast,” said Trafford.
What exactly did we just witness? For Trafford, the magnitude of realizing the Kent County Daily Times had become the hub of a significant story came at 6:30 the morning after the Station nightclub fire.
“I woke up to my phone ringing and it was WOR radio in New York … calling to interview about what had happened,” said Trafford. “It was at that moment when I realized this must be a big thing.”
Time Magazine. Newsweek. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Each outlet called to talk with Trafford as he shuffled between the KCDT newsroom and his office located in a community that had been thrust into the spotlight following a horrific chain of events.
“On a personal level, so many people in the newsroom broke down and cried that day. We knew there were going to be people we knew. Sure enough, there were,” said Trafford. “There was a woman who came to the paper every day to bring sports scores. She was one of the people who died.”
The day after the Station fire marked Jessica Carr’s first day as a reporter at the Daily Times. She was dispatched to the neighborhood located behind the smoky ruble that replaced a vibrant and popular spot for music lovers of a particular persuasion.
On 2/20/03 a fire started by pyrotechnics at the Station Nightclub in West Warwick, RI killed 100 & injured 230. The bldg was overcapacity and lacked a required sprinkler system. Updates to the life safety code resulted including crowd manager training. #FireHistory #NeverForget pic.twitter.com/HNxV1sybYG
— US Fire Marshals (@NAofSFM) February 20, 2022
“I remember Jessica coming back and telling me, ‘This is awful,’” said Trafford. “She stood in the doorway of houses with people pointing to cars parked out front. They had no idea who they belonged to … probably someone who died in the fire.”
The fallout from the Station fire rippled for two months – over that span, a story concerning the disaster appeared on the front page of every edition of the Kent County Daily Times. Nearly two weeks had passed before a non-Station story received Page 1 treatment.
As for the story about the senior center, it ran several days later on an inside page – several days after a hometown newspaper became associated with shedding the first significant light on a harrowing ordeal.
YurView is proud to partner with REELZ on this important and compelling documentary. America’s Deadliest Rock Concert: The Guest List can be seen in RI on Cox Communications’ YurView network, channel 4 on the following days and times:
- February 21, 2022 5:30pm
- February 24, 2022 5:30pm & 8:30pm
- February 26, 2022 10:00am & 8:00pm
- February 27, 2022 8:00pm
- February 28, 2022 5:30pm
- March 3, 2022 5:30pm & 8:30pm
- March 5, 2022 10:00am & 8:00pm