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Reconstructing the Station Nightclub Fire: Materials Testing and Small-Scale Experiments.

pdf icon Reconstructing the Station Nightclub Fire: Materials Testing and Small-Scale Experiments. (1402 K)
Bryner, N. P.; Madrzykowski, D.; Grosshandler, W. L.

Volume 2;

Interflam 2007. (Interflam '07). International Interflam Conference, 11th Proceedings. Volume 2. September 3-5, 2007, London, England, 1549-1554 pp, 2007.


fire departments; fire investigations; building fires; nightclubs; materials tests; expedriments; pyrotechnics; foam (materials); insulation; polyurethane foam; cone calorimeters; material properties; wood; carpets; floor coverings; finishes (fabrics); life safety; NFPA 13; NFPA 1126


On February 20, 2003, during a band performance, pyrotechnics ignited foam insulation lining the walls and ceiling of the platform that was being used as a stage in The Station nightclub, Rhode Island, USA. The fire spread quickly along the foam lined walls and ceiling, smoke emerged from the exit doorways in less than one minute, smoke dropped quickly to near the dance floor, and flames broke through the roof in less than five minutes. One hundred people lost their lives in the fire and hundreds were injured. In order to simulate this fire, small-scale experiments were conducted on different interior finish materials to better understand how those materials performed under fire conditions. Oxygen depletion calorimetry, differential scanning calorimetry, and thermal gravimetric analysis were used to collect material property data on a range of interior finishes including polyurethane foam, both non-fire retardant and fire retardant, wood paneling, acoustic ceiling tiles, and carpet flooring. Polyurethane foam typically ignited in 3 s to 14 s and reached its peak heat release in less than 45 s. The wood paneling and carpet flooring typically required up to 41 s and 54 s to ignite, respectively. The polyurethane foam, wood paneling, and carpet flooring all exhibited peak heat release rates between 400 kW/m2 and 1400 kW/m2. The foam would have contributed to a quick initial fire growth, but typically would not have had sufficient mass to carry the fire past the initial stages. Wood and the carpet flooring had greater mass and were a larger source of energy than the foam, although the wood and carpet required longer times to ignite. Once ignited, both the wood and carpet would release a substantial amount of the energy during the fire. The ceiling tiles would have released relatively little energy compared to the other fuel components. Experiments also examined the thermal characteristics of discharging pyrotechnic devices similar to those that were ignited in the nightclub. Pyrotechnic devices were discharged onto walls covered with gypsum board, wood paneling, and polyurethane foam. The experiments that involved discharging pyrotechnic devices against a foam-covered wall demonstrated that the shower of sparks could ignite non-fire retardant polyurethane foam, but that the sparks were not able to ignite fire retardant polyurethane foam, wood paneling or gypsum board within the 15 s discharge period. The ignition of the non-fire retardant polyurethane foam was similar to the ignition sequence observed in the video recorded inside the nightclub on the night of the fire.