WEST WARWICK, R.I. – An owner of the nightclub where 97 people died in a fast-moving fire blames a foam salesman for selling him cheap and highly flammable material to soundproof the walls.
The salesman, who lives next door to The Station club, said Saturday that the owners wanted the cheapest option and safety issues were never discussed.
The option the salesman and the club agree was used — polyurethane packaging foam — may have been illegal, since Rhode Island law prohibits using flammable acoustic material on the walls of gathering places like bars. Investigators are testing the soundproofing material and have declined to comment on whether it violated the law.
Town officials inspected the club after the material was installed, and there is no indication they raised concerns. They have refused so far to release a building inspection report from December, although earlier reports never mentioned the foam.
"They're seriously concerned they may have missed something," West Warwick Town Manager Wolfgang Bauer has said of building inspectors. "They don't think they have, but nobody is perfect."
Fire investigators suspect sparks from a pyrotechnic display used by the band Great White on Feb. 20 ignited the soundproofing material, triggering a fire that swept through the one-story wooden building, killing nearly 100 people.
More than 100 people were hospitalized and 34 remained in critical condition Saturday.
Fire experts have said that the type of light, porous foam purchased by The Station is not suitable for use as acoustic insulation because it burns very quickly, emitting a dense smoke containing carbon monoxide, cyanide and other toxic gases.
Kathleen Hagerty, attorney for club co-owner Michael Derderian, said salesman Barry Warner approached her client in 2000 to sell soundproofing foam that could help them put an end to neighborhood noise complaints.
"Barry represented that this is the foam that you use to soundproof a club," Hagerty said. "They relied on him. He was the expert."
Warner denied that account in an interview Saturday. He said Michael Derderian and his brother and club partner, Jeffrey, approached him soon after buying The Station in early 2000 to discuss his long-standing concerns about noise.
When they learned he worked for Johnston-based American Foam Corp., Warner said, they aggressively sought to purchase material for soundproofing.
The safety issue "never came up," Warner said. "More expensive options, he wasn't interested."
Warner declined to elaborate, and did not say which brother seemed uninterested in pricier choices, describing the conversations about the foam as taking place with the Derderians jointly and separately over several weeks.
Hagerty said Warner was so involved in the sale that he made measurements in the club, but Warner disputed that account.
"I did not place the order, I did not measure the job, I did not deliver the job, I did not arrange for delivery," he said.
American Foam Corp. owner Amar DerManouelian said Friday The Station bought $575 worth of the foam.
"They asked for egg-crate material and that's what we sold them," DerManouelian said. "They had choices and that's what they bought."
Investigators took samples of the foam sold to The Station and the invoice for the sale when they visited American Foam last week. Remnants of the insulation recovered from the scene have been sent to a lab for testing.
A grand jury investigating the blaze convened this week in East Greenwich and state Attorney General Patrick Lynch has said that his office is examining the soundproofing as a potential culprit in the fire. Lynch declined to comment Friday on any specifics of his investigation, including what role the foam played.