When cool heads prevail

Tuff not first to calmly take charge

A young woman battling addiction. A firefighter just “doing his job.” A famous rapper following his gut.

Like McNair Academy bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff — who last week helped talk a heavily armed gunman who had stormed into the DeKalb County school into surrendering — they showed uncommon grace under fire.

Three previous cases in which cool operators helped avert tragedy:

April 12, 1999

A national TV audience watched as crane operator Ivers Sims’ life hung by a thread — literally.

Sims, 49 at the time, was trapped atop the crane by an inferno that enveloped the Fulton Cotton Mills in Cabbagetown 220 feet beneath him.

Enter Atlanta firefighter Matt Mosley, dangling from a 50-foot rope attached to a helicopter piloted by Vietnam veteran Boyd Clines. It was a harrowing rescue, as Clines and Mosley had to contend with high winds and the scorching heat from the blaze below. Mosley reached Sims just before the crane caught fire, clutching him in his arms as they flew over the fire to safety.

NOW: Sims still works in construction as an independent contractor and Mosley still fights fires. He's now employed by the Johns Creek Fire Department.

March 12, 2005

Ashley Smith had no idea how her life would change when Fulton County courthouse shooter Brian Nichols pulled a gun on her outside the Bridgewater Apartments in Duluth. Smith was battling her own demons, trying to kick a meth addiction that had led her aunt to take custody of Smith's young daughter.

Nichols, who killed 4 people that day after escaping custody, was the subject of an intense manhunt. He forced Smith into her apartment. Smith, trying to win his trust, told him about her husband’s death and reading excerpts from Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life.” Seven hours later, Nichols allowed Smith to leave to see her daughter. She called police and Nichols was apprehended without further incident.

NOW: Nichols is serving multiple life sentences without the possibility of parole. Ashley Smith Robinson is remarried and lives in Augusta with her daughter, Paige, and the newest addition to their family, son Cole. She speaks often about her experience in public appearances around the country and works as a radiology tech at an Augusta hospital.

Oct. 13, 2010

Rapper Clifford Harris, better known as T.I., was on his way to a video shoot when he heard over the radio that a man was threatening to jump of the Colony Square complex in Midtown. “Something in me just said, ‘Man, you gotta try and help,’ ” T.I. later told reporters. So the part-time actor drove to the scene, where the suicidal 22-year-old and police were in a stand-off.

Using a police officer’s cell phone, Harris — who, a few months earlier, had completed a prison sentence on federal gun charges — recorded a video encouraging the unidentified man not to take his life. Fifteen minutes later, the man stepped back from the ledge.

NOW: Harris' career has thrived. He performed on the summer's biggest hit song, "Blurred Lines." T.I. told talk show host Chelsea Handler that he maintained contact with the young man he talked down from atop the Colony Square. And he wasn't done saving lives.

In his 2012 memoir, Creed lead singer Scott Stapp said T.I. happened upon the scene after the rocker fell 40 feet off a balcony at Miami Beach’s Delano Hotel. Stapp wrote he was paralyzed on the ground with a fractured skull and broken hip and nose.

T.I., he wrote, “immediately took care of the situation and saved my life.” Stapp referred to the rapper as his “guardian angel.”