Rhode Island nightclub fire survivor stresses importance of sprinkler systems

A survivor from one of the deadliest fires in modern history is in Minnesota pushing the importance of fire sprinklers.

Rob Feeney was one of the few to crawl out alive from a Rhode Island nightclub fire 14 years ago. Fireworks from a rock concert set the stage on fire.

On Tuesday, Feeney shared his experienced at the State Fire Marshal Conference. Fire leaders throughout the state showed the importance of sprinklers by setting fires side-by-side in a trailer with two living rooms – one with a sprinkler head and the other without.

It showed a startling difference. Flames quickly ripped through one room, while on the other side, the sprinkler knocked out the blaze in seconds.

"It's graphic. It's visual. You can hear the flames, you can hear the crackling and the furniture as it's being eaten up,” said Tim Butler, the St. Paul Fire Chief.

It’s a demonstration that was all too real for Feeney, who still remembers how the quickly the flames spread through the Station nightclub.

"It was literally, I looked toward the stage to see how the fire was progressing and as fast as I can just look across the ceiling, that was the speed of the flames rolling," said Feeney.

The nightclub had no sprinklers. The speed of the fire trapped and killed 100 people, including Feeney's fiancé.

Feeney managed to escape, but told the convention of Minnesota firefighters he spent days unconscious in a hospital.

"I found out that only one of my friends survived,” he said. “And, I woke up on the day of my fiancé's funeral."

Fourteen years later, Feeney is now an assistant fire inspector for a small Massachusetts fire department and an evangelist for sprinklers.

"Having that sprinkler head is like having that firefighter in your house when the fire starts," he said.

The construction industry has lobbied against making it mandatory to sprinklers in homes saying it would dramatically drive up the building costs.

Currently, there is a bill in legislature right now making illegal for require sprinklers in single family units.