A five-alarm fire broke out Thursday night in the basement of 773 St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem, which was being used as a filming location for a movie directed by Edward Norton. Michael Schwirtz/The New York Times
A New York firefighter was killed and two others were seriously injured by a fire at a building in Harlem that was being used for a film directed by Edward Norton, officials said Friday morning.
The five-alarm fire broke out in the basement of 773 St. Nicholas Avenue shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday, Daniel A. Nigro, the New York City fire commissioner, said during a news conference early Friday. The building is the former site of St. Nick’s Pub, which closed in 2011.
“Conditions worsened after the hose lines were brought down to the cellar,” Commissioner Nigro said. The flames climbed up through the building and were seen coming through the roof. The commissioner said that it had not yet been determined how the fire had started.
Michael R. Davidson, 37, was responsible for operating the fire hose nozzle for Engine Company 69, the first to arrive, the commissioner said. He was somehow separated from other firefighters when the blaze intensified and forced them to pull back from the building, officials said.
When he was found by other firefighters, he was unconscious, and critically injured. He was taken to Harlem Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
“New York City is in mourning tonight,” Councilman Mark D. Levine said of Mr. Davidson in a tweet. “He made the ultimate sacrifice to save the lives of our neighbors. Horrific tragedy. We pray for his family and loved ones.”
Fire at 773 St. Nicholas Ave, started in basement, now flames coming our through roof. Massive @fdny operation underway. Multiple firefighter injuries reported, at least one serious. (Video via @Alexander_et_al) pic.twitter.com/BLaOE6WdRl
— Mark D. Levine (@MarkLevineNYC) March 23, 2018
Firefighter Davidson was a 15-year veteran of the Fire Department and had been cited for bravery four times, the department said. The names of the two injured firefighters, who were being treated for burns, were not released.
Firefighter Michael R. Davidson New York Fire Department
Commissioner Nigro said that fighting a fire in a cellar is one of the most dangerous tasks that firefighters take on, and that in a building that isn’t fireproof, like the one on St. Nicholas Avenue, flames are liable to spread rapidly. Several other firefighters had less serious injuries and three civilians received minor injuries, the commissioner said.
“This is an awful night,” Eric Phillips, press secretary for Mayor Bill de Blasio, wrote on Twitter. “We’ve lost an NYC firefighter.”
“Sick to my stomach,” he added.
The building, which was one of Harlem’s few remaining jazz clubs before it closed, was being used for the filming of “Motherless Brooklyn,” neighbors said on social media. The film, based on a book by Jonathan Lethem about a detective with Tourette’s syndrome, stars Bruce Willis and Mr. Norton, who is also the director.
William Johnson, 61, who lives on the block, said the fire “looked crazy, like in the movies.”
“It was like a big torch burning up everything,” he added.
The crew had been filming on and off for several weeks in the Harlem location, and Thursday seemed to neighbors like a particularly busy day. Actors in period costumes were spotted milling about in the morning, and the crew was still present on the block as late as 10:30 p.m.
Early Friday morning, the interior of the building looked to be completely gutted, and a neighboring building appeared to have been damaged. A movie supply truck was parked on the street, across from a fleet of classic cars, including a blue finned Chevrolet Bel Air and a green Ford Customline. (The film is set in 1950s New York.)
In a statement, the film’s producers offered condolences to Firefighter Davidson’s family. The statement said that the fire started toward the end of the production’s working day, when the dozens of people working on site noticed smoke coming into their set from below.
“To our great sorrow, we now know that a NYC firefighter lost his life battling the blaze that grew, and our hearts ache in solidarity with his family,” the statement said. “New York City firefighters truly are the bravest in the world. We watched firsthand with astonishment as they charged into the smoke to make sure all were safely out and then fought to contain the blaze and prevent it from spreading.”
A spokeswoman for the producers said the cause of the fire was not yet known.
Firefighter Davidson, who comes from a family of firefighters, is survived by his wife, Eileen, and four children. He was the 1,150th firefighter in the 153-year history of the department to die in the line of duty, Commissioner Nigro said.