Gas leak cause of evacuation at Washington Building

” Photo: About 100 people who work in the Washington Building in downtown Tacoma had to wait an hour before firemen would allow them back into the building. A construction company broke a gas line behind the building forcing them to evacuate. (Photos by Bonnie West)Some days begin like any other, then change in a heartbeat. Friday morning was like that for everyone who works in the Washington Building at 1019 Pacific Avenue.They were typing, talking on the phone, and looking over their daily calendars when a call came from the building manager’s office about 8:55 a.m. that something was wrong.I was doing my work when the manager called and first told us a gas line broke, said Cindy Gillespie, a receptionist data entry clerk with Goodwin Attorney Services, which is located on the eighth floor of the 17-story building. She said we shouldn’t smoke behind the building.Five minutes later a more cryptic message went to offices on each floor: You need to evacuate now.As people made their way to the elevators to exit, or down the flights of stairs, the gas leak was very apparent, and especially strong on the upper floors.I didn’t smell anything until I got on the elevator, said Martha Redford, a document clerk processor who works with Gillespie on the eighth floor. But it got so strong my eyes were watering and I was saying, ‘Come on, elevator! Get us down!The emergency came about after Bechtel, the construction company installing a fiber optic network for Metromedia, broke a section of gas line on A Street. Tacoma Fire Department units responded to the emergency in minutes, including the Hazardous Material Unit. Six firefighters put breathing tanks and special gear on before entering the building.I never got in there today, and today is the day I have to get tax extensions to the post office, said an identified lady who was standing across the street reading a paperback novel and glancing up to watch the action. I’m on the ninth floor and I hope it ends soon. I don’t think the IRS will accept people’s late tax return deposits because of this.Within an hour the Tacoma Fire Department allowed people back into the building, but the smell of gas was still strong on the elevators.We’ll all have a big headache! said one elevator passenger as she exited to her floor.Not all of the companies in the building were informed of the emergency. Three employees with The Tacoma Daily Index, located on the 13th floor, weren’t called. Fortunately, an employee from IDMicro, located on the same floor, went back to the offices for something, spotted the employees, and told them.Sue Caspell, an administrative assistant with the Washington Building Tacoma Associates, managers of the building, said each floor has a monitor, and the monitor for the floor failed to let the Index know of the emergency. “