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New York City firefighter dies battling blaze on Harlem film set

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 March, 2018, 2:43am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 March, 2018, 2:47am

A New York City firefighter died on Friday battling a fierce blaze on a movie set in a former jazz club after getting separated from his fellow firefighters in the thick smoke.

The fire started in the cellar as the crew of “Motherless Brooklyn,” directed by Edward Norton, was nearing the end of its working day on Thursday. Flames poured out the windows as firefighters stormed into the five-story Harlem building, dumping water on the blaze to get it under control.

Firefighter Michael R Davidson of Engine Co 69 was assigned to the nozzle on the lead hosepipe-line and pushed into the burning basement.

But the blaze was too much. Firefighters had to back out, and Davidson was separated from his colleagues. Firefighters searched desperately for him, and he was found unconscious after suffering severe smoke inhalation, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. Davidson was pronounced dead at a hospital soon after midnight.

“This is an awful night,” Eric Philips, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, said in a tweet. “You haven’t heard a scream until you’ve heard the scream of a mother who’s seen her son give his life to protect us.”

The cause of the five-alarm fire was under investigation. The building, built in 1920, is a landmark and was home to the former St Nick’s Jazz Pub, a venerable bar that was closed in 2011.

The building owner’s phone number wasn’t accepting messages Friday; an email message failed. The phone for a lawyer who has represented him in real-estate cases also wasn’t accepting messages Friday.

Background actor Ambroise Ironfence said the movie crew wasn’t using any open fire during the shoot and the building’s power wasn’t on.

“All the equipment we were using … the power came from the truck outside,” he told WCBS-TV.

The movie crew didn’t need a city film production permit to work at the building because it was a private - though unoccupied - residence. The filmmakers did need a street parking permit and had one, officials said.

Neighbour Joan Adams, who lives two buildings away, said when she looked outside after smelling smoke, fire trucks already had arrived.

“You could see smoke billowing out of what would’ve been the basement,” she said. “It was white smoke, then after a while, thick black smoke was billowing out of there.”

The building was being used to film the adaptation of the Jonathan Lethem novel of the same name. Norton was directing and starring, along with Bruce Willis, Willem Dafoe and Alec Baldwin.

Neighbourhood resident Daquan Evans, 28, told The New York Post he saw Norton at the scene.

“He looked pretty upset,” Evans said. “This is crazy, this fire. You think a movie comes up here and it is good for the neighbourhood. Not a fire . . . damn.”

Davidson had been a firefighter about 15 years and had been cited four times for his bravery on the job. He leaves behind a wife, Eileen, and four children under 8. He was the son of a retired firefighter.

Neighbours described Davidson as a salt-of-the-earth guy, a great friend, father and husband.

“He was a great guy - he went up and down and did everybody’s sidewalk in the snow. He was playing with the kids in the snow yesterday,” said Joanne Caldon.