Fire puts building on ice World Trade Center workers are shut out for days after blaze

Downtown

December 11, 1997|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

The fire at the World Trade Center couldn't have happened at a worst time.

The advertising firm Gray, Kirk/VanSant was in the midst of preparing an 80-page proposal for a prospective client. The CSX Professional Services Group was expecting an important visit from a consultant. Hanjin Shipping had international shipping orders to track.

A small electrical fire Friday on the 28th floor of the 30-story Inner Harbor building limited access to offices and shut off electricity and phone service, but didn't totally derail efforts by many of the 70 World Trade Center tenants who struggled to conduct business this week.

By Monday, electricity and phone service were restored, but not heat. The fire marshal declared that the building could safely hold just 200 of the 700 who normally work there; as a result, only three workers from each company were allowed, said Linda Jordan, spokeswoman for the Maryland Port Administration, which runs the building and has its headquartered there.

But when companies did not adhere to the restrictions on Tuesday, access to the building was cut off at 10 a.m., she said.

Chris Cullen, vice president of Gray, Kirk/VanSant, was among the many who were shut out.

He was relegated to pulling his sports utility vehicle in front of the World Trade Center and using his cellular phone to call up instructions to the four workers who had made it in and were working on the 80-page document.

Until noon on Tuesday, Cullen sat in his vehicle with three other workers making revisions and handing the changes to a trade center security guard, who passed it on to the workers in the firm's offices on the 11th and 17th floors.

"We took it as a personal challenge that even without an office we could get this done on time," Cullen said. "Because the World Trade Center allowed some window of access, we found a way."

A courier delivered the document to the prospective client by deadline yesterday, Cullen said.

But CSX Professional Services Group, a data processing consulting firm on the trade center's 23rd floor, wasn't as fortunate.

Chuck Aaron, the firm's vice president, said he's certain CSX has lost some business.

"The inaccessibility to our offices caused us delays. Appointments had to be canceled. Recruiters couldn't make calls," Aaron said. "Communication stopped. It was basically a mess."

The Maryland Port Administration fielded calls Monday and Tuesday from tenants who implored them to allow more workers in the building to complete projects or meet deadlines, said Jordan, MPA spokeswoman.

"Everyone had very legitimate concerns about the disruption to their business operation," Jordan said.

"We were stuck between the proverbial rock and the hard place. We couldn't possibly make everyone happy."

Yesterday, officials from the various companies said they were relieved that all their workers were allowed back. But much of the day was spent making up for lost time, office managers said.

Kristi Hammond, administrative assistant for First American Title Insurance Co. on the third floor, worked out of the company's Fairfax office Monday and Annapolis office Tuesday but found it nearly impossible to be productive, she said.

"It's been hectic, just like when I return from vacation," she said. "I've found myself calming a lot of tempers and apologizing to clients because we weren't in when they needed us."

It was a relief to be back to work, but far from comfortable, workers said. There still was no heat in the building yesterday, and only four of nine elevators were working. Most workers dressed casually in thick sweaters or wore their coats as temperatures inside hovered in the 50s.

Elizabeth Vaccaro and Christina Heuwinkel, workers in the Hanjin Shipping sales office on the 13th floor, used a portable heater to keep warm.

"We usually wear business attire, but not when it's cold and it's important to be comfortable," Vaccaro said.

Jordan, spokeswoman for the MPA, said the building's heat should be on today and all of the elevators should be operational by early next week. The Top of the World observation floor remains closed.

Pub Date: 12/11/97

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