Gina Russo said Sunday a day doesn’t go by where she doesn’t think of the fire that took 100 lives at the Station nightclub nearly 11 years ago.
Russo is a survivor of the fire and heads the Station Fire Memorial Foundation.
But Russo, like many others attending an anniversary service at Warwick City Hall Sunday afternoon, is focused on what can be done to preserve the memories of those who lost their lives.
“The park will go forward,” she said to the more than 150 who turned out for the service, “but it’s going to take community.” She said that the park, with a towering wind harp as its centerpiece, is going to be beautiful and uplifting. The park is at the site of the Station nightclub on Cowesett Avenue in West Warwick. The property has been fenced off – the reason the anniversary service was planned at Warwick City Hall – and work could begin as soon as this spring.
However, while many have come forward with donations of cash, materials and labor, a lot needs to happen if the park is to ready next year. So far, $200,000 of the $2 million said to be needed to build the project has been raised.
Russo urged those interested in working to make the park a reality to join the foundation board at a March 24 meeting at the Warwick Public Library. The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m.
“It’s not just the board [seeking to create a lasting tribute to those who lost their lives],” she said. “We’re all here for the same purpose.”
Sunday’s anniversary was different from past services, as it was not at the site and was inside. It was also different in that many speakers spoke of how that tragic event has changed things and made Rhode Island safer.
In bringing the greetings of the city, Mayor Scott Avedisian spoke of how, the night before, he had been with crews as they fought to keep roads open during Saturday’s snowstorm.
“It is only appropriate that we came out of a bad night to a sunny morning,” he said. He said the service offers an opportunity to bring community together. West Warwick Town Manger Fred Presley echoed the theme of community and the hope that the memorial park can be completed on schedule.
Peter Ginaitt, a retired Warwick firefighter who as a first responder on the night of Feb. 20, 2003 was working the triage at the Cowesett Inn, spoke of the “silver lining” to the tragedy. Ginaitt, who is now director of emergency preparedness at Lifespan, said that the fire departments of 30 communities responded that night; 10 police departments; and 11 hospitals were involved.
“We learned how to assist people in need, how to go through tragedy,” he said. Apart from changes in fire codes, which Ginaitt said made a safer state, he pointed to a statewide tracking system for emergency medical personnel; improved communications between departments; and the creation of a regional burn center.
“We have to be regional,” he said, “We can’t just live in our little microcosm. We need to key in on the silver lining to this horrible tragedy … we truly are a better state.”
There were also moments to reflect on those no longer with us because of the fire. Joe Silva played the song he composed soon after the fire – “99 Angels” – and the invocation by the Rev. Don Anderson and the benediction by Father Robert Marciano both spoke of how time cannot erase the memory of the lost.
“Our hearts break at the thought of the loss of so many we cared for, loved ones who will never be forgotten,” said Rev. Anderson. “Today, we look back to a tragedy that changed the lives of so many; those who lost loved ones, the first responders who answered the call, the medical personnel who acted so quickly to save lives, those who have helped survivors and their family and friends in the years that have followed. Some of us here today are survivors of that dark night. Lord, be especially present with them in this hour.”