by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson

For Martha, Emilie and Richard -in Appreciation


No project of the size and scope of THE GLASS INFERNO can be the sole product of the authors. From May 1972, when the project was first conceived, to the present, a great many people have contributed their time and technical information to the book.

Errors, nevertheless, do creep in and for these we.assume full responsibility. In some instances we have taken auctorial license, particularly in minimizing the smoke hazards of high-rise fires.

THE GLASS INFERNO is not intended as an indictment of architects or contractors-there are no such villains in the book-but rather as a comment , on the nature of human error and the economic pressures inherent in modern building technology. The city is nowhere identified since all modern cities and towns, to a greater or lesser degree, face the same problems in fighting high-rise fires. The Glass House itself, as the reader might expect, is a composite of many such buildings.

And, of course, the characters of THE GLASS INFERNO exist only in our imaginations, and any resemblance to real people, living or dead, is not intentional.

We would like to thank Inspector James I. King of the San Francisco Fire Department, Architect Rob Hult and Researcher Gene Klinger for valuable technical information and for reading and commenting on the final manuscript. We are also indebted for specialized technical information and help to retired Fire Administrator Warren Pietro, Anchorman Bob Marshall of K.G.O, helicopter pilot and Chief Warrant Officer Gerald W. Fisch, Attorney David Hodgehead, and Marion Cole of the National Fire Protection Association. Special thanks for thoroughness go to our research assistants, Kathy Fast and Tom Passavant. Finally, a bow of appreciation to two very patient ladies: Jan McMillan, who often worked into the night hours on manuscript drafts, and our editor Diane Cleaver who, with others at Doubleday, was more than kind and helpful to us. -Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson

Early Evening


Every beast has a time and place of birth. For the fire, it was late afternoon in a small room deep within one of the newer high rises that dotted the city.

The room had purpose and importance-though it was never pointed out during the frequent tours of the building and an indefinable odor, characteristic of rooms of its type. It was also a little more cluttered than the usual.

It was shortly after five o’clock when the door to the room opened, thereafter the overhead fluorescents- flickered on. There was a long pause, the slight shuffling sounds of something being moved, then the snap of a switch as the lights extinguished. Eyes blinked in the glow from the open doorway, casually inspecting the room for a few seconds.

Then shoulders briefly obscured the light from the corridor, the door closed, and the room lost itself in darkness.

But not total darkness. A small spark glowed in one corner of the room, nursed by a frayed cotton strand-the umbilical cord for the beast.

The temperature of the room was a little less than 70 degrees and starting to fall, mirroring the chill autumn air outside the building.

By four-thirty Wednesday afternoon, the long-expected Canadian cold front was passing north of the city. On Lee Avenue, the young saplings in front of the National Curtainwall Building, stripped of their autumn foliage, whipped violently against the surrounding wrought-iron grills.

Low banks of clouds scudded across the sky and the fine rain turned into a biting sleet. Workmen, decorating the street lamps with plastic Santa Clauses, clutched desperately at their ladders as ice began to coat the rungs.

Clerks and secretaries, dismissed early for the Thanksgiving holidays, deserted the middle of the sidewalk for the narrow safety offered by building fronts, or else scurried for the security of subway entrances, repeatedly losing their footing on the slick of water and melting ice.

Six blocks away, Craig Barton leaned impatiently against the steering wheel of his rented car and nervously chewed the end of an unlit cigarillo. The traffic had slowed to a halt and an occasional wisp of cold air seeped into the car’s interior, cutting through the feeble warmth from the defective heater. The perfect ending for a lousy day, Barton thought. Stacked up over the -airport for an hour, then a lemon for a drive-away, and finally the traffic jam as a capper.

He couldn’t get to the office now before everybody had left; there’d be no chance to double check on why Leroux had sent for him in the first place.

He’d be walking in cold and Wyndom Leroux was no man to have a conference with if you were unprepared.

It wasn’t going to be a pleasant evening in other ways either.

Jenny had paged him at the airport to relay Leroux’s sudden invitation to dinner and it was obvious that it hadn’t set well with her-not that anything did set well with her these days. And if the dinner lasted long ‘enough and the weather worsened, they’d probably wind up spending the night in a hotel instead of with Jenny’s parents in nearby Southport. That was sure to bring tears and recriminations from Jenny.

It would never occur to her that he might have his own resentments about being called back to headquarters in the middle of delicate negotiations.

The light turned green and the crowds at the corner surged across the street, spreading out to thread their way through the close-packed automobiles. Darting in and out of the noisy tangle of traffic, like water beetles skimming across a crowded pond, messenger boys sped by on single-speed Schwinns, their baskets loaded with records, stacks of print-out sheets, and rolls of blueprints.

For a second, Barton’s nostrils flared at the memory of the faint ammonia odor of the prints, a smell that always excited him with its associated visions of buildings yet to be built.

He leaned forward, suddenly curious, and glanced out the window at the city’s skyline. Even in six months, there had been changes. The Traveler’s Building had been topped out and the Curtainwall was two thirds of the way up: pseudo-Mies van der Robe inspiration that unfortunately didn’t have the clarity of detailing that was The hallmark of a van der Robe project. A hundred yards north, the new Fireman’s Insurance Headquarters loomed in the sleet. It was a more sensitive structure, though the site itself was bad-so small that the building seemed crammed onto it and the plaza in front looked the size of a child’s’sandbox. The Kohnke Insurance Building next to it didn’t help; it resembled a downtown motel more than an office building.

The lights changed again. Barton toed the accelerator and lurched forward another thirty yards across the intersection before he came to a stop. Now he could see the Glass House-the nickname for the National Curtainwall Building-a few blocks away, its tower etched against the, dark clouds. He caught his breath. God, it’s beautiful!

He felt the same sudden sweep of pride that he had felt when he flew in for the dedication three months before -sans Jenny, much to her annoyance.

He clamped harder on the cigarillo and stared intently at the building. Damnit, he had a right to be proud-and so did Leroux.

Sixty-six stories of gold-tinted glass panels and gold-anodized aluminum. The location on the north side of the financial district had been selected so there would be no buildings for several blocks around that could challenge it. There had been no compromise on the size of the site itself-the plazas on each side of the building were spacious and inviting; you didn’t feel crowded as you strolled across them to the building’s entrance. Sixty-six stories-thirty commercial and office floors and thirty-six of apartment floors-straight up with no setbacks. On the southern exposure, a shear wall marked the utility core and served as a golden backdrop for the scenic elevator to the

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