Eyewitness News
Local News
Pinpoint Weather
Eyewitness Sports
Call For Action
What's On WPRI
What's On Fox
Station Info
Online Store

MARKETPLACE:  Auto | Jobs | Personals | Yellow Pages  December 13, 2003
Holiday Helper | House & Home | Money | Pets | Recipes | Relationships | Travel | Weddings
Governor takes different tone with Pawtucket fire
Email to a Friend Printer Friendly Version  

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Gov. Don Carcieri was the public face of the state's response to a West Warwick nightclub fire that claimed 100 lives. He appeared regularly on television and personally fought for federal disaster aid.

But Carcieri has learned there's no handbook for a first-year governor to follow when responding to emergencies and disasters, which in Rhode Island will long be compared to the nightclub fire.

His low-key approach to the Nov. 14 Greenhalgh Mill fire in Pawtucket was a marked contrast to his response to the Feb. 20 fire at The Station in West Warwick. In both cases he arrived the next day, but he raced home from Florida when he learned of the nightclub fire and spent days offering support to survivors and family members of victims. He led the state's unsuccessful bid for a federal disaster declaration.

When Carcieri arrived in Pawtucket after the mill fire, he stayed largely behind the scenes. He's since left his staff to work with city officials who are pushing for federal assistance.

Boston University communications professor Tobe Berkovitz says Carcieri erred by not getting to the mill fire sooner.

"When there is a large disaster like the mill fire, the governor should appear there to speak to the people in charge, that shows the governor cares and is on top of the problem.

"What counts to the average television viewer and radio listener is seeing the governor showing his concern by going to the scene of the event," Berkovitz said. "He should have been there that night."

Senate President William Irons, however, said Carcieri arrived "about when he should have" and has appropriately assigned his staff to work with city officials.

Irons says the key distinction between the nightclub and mill fires is that no lives were lost in the Pawtucket blaze.

"That changes the dynamic in terms of who needs to be on the scene," the East Providence Democrat said. Irons, whose district includes the neighborhood affected by the mill fire, said state officials can't help but compare disasters to the West Warwick tragedy.

"That is the human reality, just like all hurricanes are compared to 1938," when more than 600 people died on the East Coast, Irons said.

While the statewide trauma wrought by the two fires can't be compared, each was a disaster to those directly affected. The wind-swept mill fire damaged or destroyed 17 properties and attracted firefighters from 27 communities, including from Massachusetts.

The governor said his response to the mill fire was determined by the community's ability to control it: "The reports I got (were) that things were under control and the best thing to do was to come in the morning.

"The question we ask is, 'Has the event overwhelmed the local government?' In West Warwick it was yes, in Pawtucket, all signs said no," Carcieri said.

"In West Warwick it wasn't the fire, it was the need to deal with all the fatalities that overwhelmed them," the Republican governor said.

Brown University political science professor Darrell West thinks Carcieri was right to wait until the day after to go to the scene.

"Top executives generally don't go to a disaster scene when it still is unfolding, they don't want to get in the way of emergency personnel," West said.

West said President Bush takes the same approach during emergencies.

Carcieri's first emergency as governor occurred within weeks of taking office, when the state was buried under nearly two feet of snow. When he kept vacationing in Florida he became the butt of a joke on late-night television.

Then came the nightclub fire a few days later. Carcieri immediately returned to Rhode Island. In the ensuing weeks he received widespread praise for his compassion and leadership.

When he learned of the mill fire he dispatched an aide. He received updates by phone throughout the afternoon and evening from emergency management officials and the city's mayor, James Doyle. Doyle has no complaints.

"I did talk with him late Friday night ... he said he had several meetings, he promised to come and he did" the next day, Doyle said.

Earl Cook, 72, spoke briefly with Carcieri when the governor toured the fire scene but doesn't remember much from the conversation.

Cook's house had survived with minor damage, while a neighbor's house was leveled.

"At the time my concern was my house ... the fact he came doesn't make too much difference to me," Cook said. "There wasn't much he could do from what I could see."


Local News Headlines  more» 
Crowbar bandit seems to have struck again
Law breaks silence
Monsterous cookie recall
Lobstermen indicted
Great White members given free talk letters
Meal tax makes a million
Hopkinton man indicted on sexual assault charges
National Endowment for the Arts awards $165,000 to Rhode Island groups
Cessna names new CEO, says layoffs behind it
Bristol company skips party to help homeless
National News  more» 
Oklahoma and Kansas get winter weather
Bush vowing Halliburton overcharge won't stand
Senate panel plans action on variety of tax breaks....
Search continues for missing student
Authorities ready more flu vaccine
Former P-O-W Shoshana Johnson leaves Army
Bush signs Syria sanctions bill
Schwarzenegger signs bond, balanced budget amendment package
Storyteller Sex Offender CORRECTIVE
Bush admonishes Israel, Palestinians to take steps needed for peace

Rheumatoid Arthritis:
Symptoms and treatments.
Sick of your job?
Start fresh in 2004. Search jobs now.
Holiday Eating
Party without packing on pounds.
Topics A to Z
Entertainment, health, pets, relationships... and much, much more. Find it here.
Send questions and comments about this website to the .
All content © Copyright 2003, WorldNow, WPRI, WNAC and Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.