THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
as well as the work of such colleagues
as Tatiana Gfoeller (later ambassador
to Kyrgyzstan) on religious issues and
tensions, who also complemented our
reporting on Yeltsin.
The reason I am compelled to men-
tion this reporting dynamic now is that
historians are unlikely to figure any of
this out any time soon. So while I am still
able, I want to try and see to it that my
people, who analyzed events more from
economic and social perspectives and
less from political vantage points and
Kremlinology, receive recognition for
basically getting it right from the get-go
and throughout this critical period.
The Last Ones Out
Finally, I certainly salute the brave acts
of the communications processing unit
(CPU) in Moscow and was mesmerized
by Tim Lawson’s article, which high-
lighted the March 1991 embassy fire.
When the fire broke out, I was in a
meeting in the executive suite. Deputy
Chief of Mission Jim Collins turned to the
head of the Adminstrative Section, Joe
Hulings, asking him if it was a drill. When
he said that it was not, I ran to my section.
As Mr. Lawson describes it, the fire
moved very quickly. But, despite smoke
and extreme danger, my staff stayed and
locked up all their materials and safes
before trying to exit the building.
When my group got down to the third
floor, the staircase was on fire. As a thick,
carpet-like plume of solid black smoke
moved toward us up the stairs, I was
asked whether we should go back up. I
yelled to everyone to take a deep breath
and run down the staircase with me, and
not go back upstairs.
They followed me down through
two flights of stairs on fire, through the
dense, punishing smoke, where I finally
hit the exit door whose frame was totally
aflame. It did not budge; and I thought
we were dead. At that moment, Roman
Wasilevski, a fine reporting officer—who,
fortuitously, was tall—backed up and hit
the door again and again until it burst
Unfortunately, a waterfall of flam-
ing debris from elevator construction
prevented us from exiting, and the heat
and toxic air was fast overcoming us.
At that point, Mike Desaro noticed that
if we moved very carefully to the right
on a sill, it might just be possible to exit
by shimmying between the waterfall of
flames and the wall.
Although some of us were burned
slightly, we all escaped and went over a
wall—that last step, the harrowing ordeal
of us getting over the wall and down to
safety, was pictured on the front page of
The New York Times
the next day.
I admire the courage of the CPU
team. We did not re-enter as they did,
but I am pretty sure it was the members
of the Economic Section who were the
last ones out.
Throughout the three years I was in charge of
the economic, commercial and labor reporting
from Moscow, we tried to weigh objectively
for Washington each of a long parade of
successive economic reform packages.