HARLEM, Manhattan — A veteran FDNY firefighter was killed, and two other firefighters and three civilians were injured, during a massive fire that consumed a historic building at a Harlem movie set late Thursday, officials said.
Michael R. Davidson, 37, a 15-year veteran of the FDNY and a married father of four, was killed in the blaze. He was among the firefighters who responded at about 11 p.m. to a blaze that broke out in the cellar of a five-story building at 773 St. Nicholas Ave., at West 149th Street, the former site of the legendary St. Nick's Pub jazz club, according to Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro.
As conditions worsened, firefighters were told to evacuate the building, but Davidson became separated from the rest of the unit, Nigro said.
Davidson, whose job was to operate a hoseline to suppress the fire, was found unconscious and critically injured, fire officials said.
He was taken to Harlem Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to fire officials.
On Thursday, the building was being used to film "Motherless in Brooklyn," starring Edward Norton and Bruce Willis.
For eyewitnesses, who’ve seen the production crew in scene for weeks now, the blaze seemed unreal. “I saw what was going on,” said Angela Ratchford, who lives across the start from the blaze, “and I thought it was the movie. Oh God, the flames from the top were shooting, shooting, shooting,” she exclaimed.
The film being shot on scene is directed by Norton, whose production company released a statement Friday morning expressing sympathy for the firefighter's family.
“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. New York City firefighters truly are the bravest in the world.”
Davidson was the 1,150th NYC firefighter to die in the line of duty. His death comes eight days after an FDNY lieutenant and a fire marshal were killed in a U.S. military helicopter crash in Iraq.
Davidson, a member of Harlem's Engine Company 69, had been awarded four times for bravery in his 15-year career, according to the FDNY.
Davidson’s brother is a city firefighter. Their father is retired from the department. The fallen firefighter is survived by his wife and four children — three girls, ages 7, 3 and 1, and a 6-year-old son.
Davidson’s father served the majority of his 26-year career in the same firehouse as Davidson. There, on Friday, residents left flowers and other mementoes.
“We hurt just like they hurt,” said Valerie Holloway, outside of the firehouse near the intersection of 143rd Street and Frederick Douglass Blvd. “This is where we all have to get together and help one another.”
Two other firefighters were seriously hurt in the fire that took more than three hours and 175 firefighters to get under control.
The building was once home to the St. Nick's Jazz Pub and built in 1920, Commissioner Nigro said. It is considered a "non-fire proof" building, meaning flames can spread rapidly.
In the past two weeks, movie crews put up a sign that read "King Rooster Jazz Club" outside the set, and cars from the 1950s era have lined the street outside the building.
Mayor De Blasio returned from a trip to Florida to view the scene with the commissioner and other officials on Friday evening. The mayor did not make any public comments at the scene.
The film production company said the fire broke out just as the crew was wrapping up production for the day. They noticed smoke emerging from the historic building's basement, and immediately called for help.
"As soon as we noticed smoke coming up into our set, our crew immediately alerted the fire department and began alerting residents of the building even as we evacuated our cast and crew," the production company’s statement said.