From the Ashes, Surviving the Station Night Club Fire: A personal story of tragedy and Triumph.
By: Gina Russo with Paul Lonardo
This book will bring you to tears, making you grateful for what you do have and keep you optimistic for the future.
During a Great White Concert a pyrotechnic display ignited a fire that spread in a matter of seconds, totally engulfing the Station Nightclub. This unfortunate and preventable fire is considered the fourth deadliest fire in U.S. history, killing 100 individuals and injuring many others.
Gina Russo was one of the survivors from the fire that occurred on February 20, 2003. She was pulled out of the club by an unknown individual and awoke from a long coma to learn about the disaster. Following the fire she went through several months of painful physical therapy and experienced excruciating pain from her burn wounds. The hardest part for her was the psychological impact of the fire, which left her with not only physical scars, but an emotional hole where her beloved Fred used to be, whom unfortunately did not survive the fire. This is a story about triumph and the great strength that one woman had to overcome tragedy.
From the Ashes is a beautifully written book that was extremely hard to put down. I read the book in two sittings and could have read it in it’s entirety all at once but I needed sleep. Throughout the story I found myself reaching for Kleenex because I felt empathy for the station fire victims and also because It reaffirmed for me that I should be grateful for what I do have.
My first initial impression of the book was the shocking similarities in my experiences and her experiences. When I first started reading the book I was surprised to learn that Ms. Russo had been through a fire during her early childhood that was around Christmas time. This is the first part of the book that started my tears. The fire that I was in was the day after Christmas, and like her family, I fear that this holiday will always be remembered in a negative light.
Also, after reading about diabetes in her family and the death of her father, it made me reflect about my loved ones. Diabetes is pretty common in our family and while we have an awareness of it now, previous family members have passed away from it as a result of complications. Even though I was young, I will always remember hearing about my uncle who lost a his leg from the disease and ultimately went on to the other side after battling diabetes.
While our stories are similar in many ways, there were also a lot of differences that opened my mind. Anyone who has gone through a fire can relate to the emotional anguish following the aftermath. There is nothing you can do to prepare yourself mentally for this. Unlike Ms. Russo, I was fortunate enough not to lose someone or receive burn injuries. However, there is one common thread that I share, which is the psychological trauma that will always plague me to some extent. There is no way to just forget about the fire and what helps the most is finding outlets that help me grieve. In Gina Russo’s case, volunteering for various funds helps her to keep her mind occupied and stay focused on gratitude.
For about a month after the fire, I was extremely grateful for everything. I was blown away by the outpouring of support from friends, family, the town and anyone who came to help out the victims. I reflected about the things I could have lost (like my rabbit or my life) and felt blessed that I wasn’t hurt. Then life went on, the phone stopped ringing all day long, donations ended, people went on with their lives, and I was left to deal with reality. My gratitude turned into anger, which ultimately turned into depression.
Prior to reading this book I was filled with major resentments and unhealthy anger. I couldn’t understand why this had to happen to me. I felt a lack of support from people, especially when I would try to talk about the fire and people would tell me to just be grateful. The heaviest resentment was my anger towards my school for not understanding that it was difficult for me to be creative when I had lost all my sources of inspiration. Before the fire I had planned on submitting to art contests, participating in open studios again, and taking calls to artists. However, with the loss of my portfolio and my creative voice, my goals were squished. The hardest part was submitting my portfolio for review, knowing that I had lost almost all of my work and despite my efforts, my work wasn’t up to the standard I wanted.
After reading the book, my whole perspective changed for the better. I thought about Gina Russo and the tragedy she went through. How could I be so ungrateful? She had burns all over her body and even lost an ear. Here I am intact, and healthy, what do I have to complain about? I can’t imagine, nor would I want to imagine, what it would be like to go through a fire like she did. I was lucky that I had enough time to get out without suffering any injuries. Through no fault of her own, she unfortunately did not have enough time to escape without injuries. Things could have been a lot worse for me and I have to remember that.
What I like the most about her spirit is that she is still optimistic and positive. Of course, some days are harder than others, but she continues to shine despite it all. However, it takes some time to get to this point. I have to be realistic with myself and accept that I am not always going to feel great and may at points may have a hard time with grieving. Gina Russo struggled at first as well, especially when she first awoke from her coma. In fact she wanted to pretend like it never happened and go back to sleep. However she triumphed in her recovery. In the beginning she was extremely angry and felt no relief, even from a spiritual intervention. Throughout her rehabilitation she had moments of doubt, but persevered despite it all. Eventually her anger subsided. Like Ms. Russo, I have questioned why did this have to happen to me. Sometimes we will never truly understand why we are dealt a certain hand of cards, but we just have to trust that there is a reason.
I highly recommend this book to anyone that has experienced a fire or has been impacted in some way by a fire. Your heart will be transformed after reading it and you will find strength that you never thought you had.
Read more about the book
http://www.paullonardo.com/lonardo-ashes.htm- Co-author of From the Ashes