By Jeffrey C. Schneider, MD and Colleen M. Ryan, MD FACS
The Cocoanut Grove Nightclub Fire shook Boston and the medical community in 1942. Four hundred and ninety-two merrymakers perished in the fire and hundreds more were injured. The fire safety and treatment advances born in that fire a generation ago have had wide-reaching impact on building codes, triage, disaster management, burn resuscitation and the treatment of wounds, smoke inhalation and infections. The tragedy of those days was an engine for research and innovation that has since saved many more lives than lost, and is, in part, a fitting memorial to those whose lives were lost or heavily impacted by this devastating event.
We, as a burn surgeon and a rehabilitation physician who cared for some of the patients and families of the Rhode Island Station Nightclub Fire during the dark days after the fire and the ten years since deeply hope that our continued work studying this disaster and its impact will serve as a living memorial to those who lost their lives that day. This event has provided important lessons in burn disaster management, fluid resuscitation, and pain management of the critically ill patient. Innovative surgical techniques have been advanced because of this disaster. One of the important advances, driven by the grace and determination of survivors, is the development of resources and research into long-termrecovery. As doctors, we listened to their stories and we are now growing old with our patients, and still listening. There are little data on the long-term outcome from burn injury, not surprising since survival from massive burn injury was not commonplace until the mid-1980’s. We are trying to make headway in this area.
We recently published a study, “The Long-Term Impact of Physical and Emotional Trauma: The Station Nightclub Fire” in the journal PLOS One. The study involved over 100 survivors of the Station Fire and looked at the multi-dimensional long-term effects of this catastrophic event. We assessed the differences in outcomes between survivors with and without physical injury. This was the first study to investigate the long-term effects of a large fire on its survivor population that included survivors with and without burn injuries. Among the main findings of the paper were that survivors experienced significant life disruption, including occupational, psychological and quality of life sequelae.
Furthermore, quality of life, depression and post-traumatic stress outcomes were related to emotional trauma, not just physical injury.