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Man Helps Others From Inferno After Co-Worker Jumps

July 1, 1989

ATLANTA (AP) _ A man who watched a co-worker leap out a sixth-floor window as smoke filled a burning office building said he almost followed her, but kept his poise and helped four others escape by ladder.

Michael Blackman smashed open a window to allow the group to breathe while they waited for rescue, but one of them panicked and jumped, and was in critical condition early today. Four other people were killed.

″I wasn’t calm. I was scared to death. I think I said, ’We’re going to die,‴ Blackman said.

The blaze Friday at the 10-story Peachtree 25th Building also left more than 20 people hospitalized, including five firefighters. Officials said rescuers were hampered by panicking office workers.

″My understanding is that some firefighters could have saved or helped more people if they didn’t panic. But some people did panic,″ said Sandra Walker, a spokeswoman for Mayor Andrew Young.

The woman who jumped from the window, identified as Cassandra Hayward, 20, broke both legs and an ankle and underwent surgery Friday night at Piedmont Hospital, a spokesman said.

Authorities said the fire started about 10:30 a.m. with an explosion at an electrical panel on the sixth floor of the dark-tinted glass building, where workers were repairing a fuse. Authorities said they did not know what caused the explosion and fire, which later spread two floors below and one above.

″It’s simple speculation, but it may have been a short,″ said Acting Fire Chief Tom Perrin.

The blast killed a maintenance worker who was thrown several feet, and melted aluminum near the panel, Perrin said.

Names of the maintenance worker and the other three dead, one of whom was a woman, were not released by authorities, but the family of graphics artist Clifton Chandler, 29, confirmed that he was one of those killed.

Sgt. Steve Martin of the Fulton County medical examiner’s office said this morning that reports of a fifth death stemmed from an error in his office. Another, unrelated death occurred about the time of the fire and for a time was mistakenly included in the fire toll, he said.

Blackman, 30, said he heard a series of loud pops from an electrical panel outside the door of his office suite.

″It hit me real quick that we were in real bad trouble,″ Blackman said. ″It went from, ‘Oh, my God, something really bad has happened to the guy working on the fuse box,’ to ‘Oh, my God, something bad is happening to all of us.’

″I went running out there. The maintenance guy was out there, screaming for help,″ Blackman said. ″We couldn’t get to him.″

Blackman and five other workers from the private Bureau of Wholesale Sales Representatives, including Hayward, fled back into his office, where smoke began making it difficult to breathe. Blackman threw a chair through a window, and a few minutes later Hayward jumped.

″She went right by me,″ Blackman said.

Blackman, who was hospitalized in good condition with smoke inhalation and cuts, said he led the other workers one by one to the 5-foot-wide window for breaths of air until firefighters could reach the window with a ladder. Then Blackman helped the others out.

″It probably wasn’t more than five or 10 minutes. It seemed like about 30 years,″ Blackman said in a telephone interview from the hospital.

Perrin said the fire was severe because the building has no sprinkler system. It was built in 1962, before sprinklers were required.

About 200 people, many of them rescued office workers with soot-blackened clothing and skin, gathered on the street outside the building as firefighters battled the blaze. Some sat down, breathing from oxygen masks.

Darlene Dunn, 57, said she was one of eight people in a sixth-floor office when the fire began. She said she acted mainly on instinct before being rescued by the firefighters’ ladder. She used her chair to break glass.

″I busted out a couple of windows so we could breathe fresh air,″ Ms. Dunn said after being treated for smoke inhalation. ″We tried to get out of the building but there was no way - we were trapped.″

Harry Komsky, vice president of American Management Co. of Los Angeles, which manages the building, said the cause of the fire will be investigated.

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