02/04/1980 at 01:00 AM EST
The cry for assistance from Chicago fireman John Steinmetz as he struggled to rescue 23-year-old Debra Williams from a burning apartment was also a cry of rage. "I wish I could forget how that fire started," Steinmetz, 31, says sadly. Some highly volatile liquid had been spread through hallways in the building and ignited. By the time Engine Company 70 arrived at the scene, Steinmetz recalls, "People were hanging from ledges by their fingertips. It was horrible."
Steinmetz quickly climbed a ladder at the back of the four-story building and entered a top-floor apartment where Williams and her 3-year-old daughter, Angel, were trapped. "I found them lying in a doorway, unconscious," he says. "There was so much smoke I couldn't see anything. I couldn't tell if they were alive or not." Steinmetz passed Angel to a fireman on the ladder and moments after this picture was taken, others helped him get Angel's mother out as well.
Tragically, his heroism was in vain: Debra and her daughter did not survive. Four of their neighbors in the building also died. Chicago police have charged two adults and a juvenile with murder and arson in the case. The motive is still undetermined.