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Employee Warned R.I. Club of Pyro Use

By Rob Jones, Founder
Tuesday, February 25, 2003 @ 1:41 PM


"I told him: Stage manager

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From the Boston Herald

by Tom Mashberg
Tuesday, February 25, 2003

The sound engineer/stage manager of The Station nightclub, who barely escaped Thursday's inferno with his life, said yesterday he warned co-owner Michael Derderian three months ago that unfamiliar band personnel were setting off risky pyrotechnics at his club.

``I told Mike I was having serious problems with this stuff,'' said Paul M. Vanner, 41, of East Providence, R.I. ``I said, `They're lighting fires up on your stage and I don't know these guys from (bleep).' '' Vanner, a crucial witness in the investigation of the deadly blaze, has already told his story to Rhode Island law enforcement officials.

He spoke to the Herald yesterday after consulting with a local attorney, Ronald J. Resmini, saying, ``It's all about keeping this from ever happening again.''

Vanner said two other Station employees - the bar's manager, identified as Kevin Beazie, and the lighting technician, who goes by ``Scooter'' - were also in on the meeting with Derderian and would corroborate the prophetic warning.

Vanner said he brought up the issue after a night in which a heavy-metal tribute band used stage flames in a way that struck Vanner, the son of a retired building inspector, as dangerous.

``I'm paid good money to a do a professional job,'' said Vanner, who was hired full time by club co-owners Michael and Jeffrey A. Derderian in April 2000, a month after the pair took over The Station. ``And one of the things that I was anal about was safety.''

Vanner said Michael Derderian appeared to take his warnings to heart, and no bands that featured pyrotechnic displays were booked into The Station in the three or so months after their conversation.

``After we met, they stopped booking the pyro bands,'' he said. ``They never told me there was a change of policy or anything, but the bands just weren't booked.''

Vanner said the first he knew of pyrotechnics last Thursday ``was when they went off as the show (by band Great White) started.''

But he said he recalls pyrotechnic displays of various kinds being used on stage at The Station at least a dozen times after the Derderians purchased it. And he said there was no way the two owners could have been blind to their use.

``When you hire a KISS tribute band, pyro is part of the show,'' he said. ``I never approved it myself. I was in no position to make that decision. It just wasn't my call.''

The Derderian's attorney did not return calls seeking comment.

The West Warwick town clerk, David D. Clayton, told the Herald Friday that ``at no time in the past 10 years or so'' were permits for indoor pyrotechnic use sought by The Station or any other venue.

Town and state laws require such permits, and in West Warwick, any venue hoping to use indoor pyrotechnics must post a $1 million bond per event and have fire professionals on the premises.

Vanner said the soundproofing material that fueled the deadly nightclub inferno was installed ``approximately 18 months ago.''

He said pyro was set off at The Station ``at least three times'' between the date of the installation and last Thursday's calamity.

``There were little flashpots and there were these sparkler things,'' he said. ``I'm a sound guy. I don't really know a lot about it.''

He also said the polyurethane foam that caught fire was present at the club both times a West Warwick fire inspector visited the premises to approve it late last year. He said the tiles were installed with a spray adhesive that makes them difficult to remove.

Rhode Island law requires that acoustical material be fully fireproof and that inspectors test it if they find it present in a venue.

Denis Larocque, the West Warwick Fire Department inspector who approved The Station in December, made no mention of the foam when he cited the club for minor violations a month earlier.

Larocque did not return calls placed to his home. Battalion Chief Wayne Willett declined comment on Larocque's inspection report.

``I know you guys have a job to do but right now we're not making any statement,'' Willet said.

Vanner said the tiles were installed not long after the Derderians spent $65,000 to upgrade The Station's sound system. The club generated so much noise, he said, that neighbors began complaining and town officials insisted that they install acoustic baffling.

Vanner said Great White arrived at The Station with only a road manager and a sound man. He said he has no idea who placed the pyro canisters on the stage.

``I'm heartbroken I didn't know this was up there,'' he said. ``These guys are in and out of the club before you know it. Clearly their main concern was not with my club.

``I think these guys from Great White have a lot to answer for,'' he said.

Vanner was numbed and exhausted yesterday by the agony of recent days - including the loss of close friends. He spoke with haunted eyes of the tumultuous scene inside The Station and how he rushed for a fire extinguisher, only to watch the flames above his head ``spread at a geometric rate.''

``If you hesitated for even a moment - if you made the mistake of thinking it was maybe part of the show - you were lost,'' he said.

``I could see by the way the soundproofing was going up that it was `out now' or else,'' he said. ``The speed was incredible. That fire was doubling in size about every three seconds.''

Vanner was stationed at the left of the stage in a sound cubby when Great White's display went off.

``I knew right away we were in very bad shape,'' he said.

He said he rushed for a fire extinguisher mounted underneath a separate sound station in the middle of the dance floor, some 35 feet away.

When he turned back to the fire, he said, the situation was hopeless.

``This was way beyond fire extinguisher help,'' he said. ``I just screamed to the faces around me, `Get out now!' ''

Outside, Vanner said, ``was a scene of horror only Stephen King could imagine.''

Robin Washington and Eric Convey contributed to this report.


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