The Providence Journal's 10-day series on The Station nightclub fire - in the run-up to the 10th anniversary - continues today with a fine piece by Tracy Breton on the Derderian brothers, who owned the club.
The story follows a strong and beautifully written overview of the fire by G. Wayne Miller, Tom Mooney, and Karen Lee Ziner that appeared on Sunday. And just below it, Ziner's harrowing, first-person account of covering the fire:
A woman on a stretcher gasping for air, her back arched in a bow. "Calm down for us," rescuers pleaded. "Calm down." She gulped soundlessly, like a fish. A line of people walked in a gruesome parade, flesh hanging from their extended arms. They were the ones who could stand. They were waiting to be taken by bus to the hospital. Firefighters and EMTs raced to impose order on chaos, by sorting the wounded. Who had the worst burns. Whose airways were singed. Who could wait. Who couldn’t. "I’ve got a critical over here!" "They’re still pulling people out!" "How many more stretchers do you need now?" I felt useless, in the way, an intruder. Shouldn’t I be holding someone’s hand? Then I remembered: journalists record history, the vital public record. Get a grip, I told myself. Do your job.
The stories draw, in no small part, on the well of the ProJo past. Ten years ago, the paper was in a better position to muster the resources - and talent - The Station saga required.
But what's most striking about the series, from a critic's perspective, is its sharp reminder of how much of the paper's talent - if not resources - remains. Consider the tags the paper has put at the end of each story: "G. Wayne Miller, a Journal staff writer for 32 years, is also a filmmaker and the author of nine books"; "Tracy Breton, a Journal staff writer for more than 40 years...was part of a reporting team that won a Pulitizer Prize for investigative reporting in 1994."
It would be foolish to imagine that the paper could regularly deploy its top-tier talent as it has on the Station series; this is a unique and powerful event.
But one can't help but hope that some of lyricism and experimentation on display here - why not more first-person writing? - will find its way into the paper when the series comes to a close.