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NYC firefighter dies battling blaze on ‘Motherless Brooklyn’ movie set in Harlem

New York firefighters battled a raging fire at an unoccupied residential building being used as a film set in the Harlem section of New York on Thursday, March 22, 2018. | WPIX-11 via AP

NEW YORK — A raging fire gutted an unoccupied residential building in Harlem being used as a film set and left a New York City firefighter dead.

The blaze broke out on the set of “Motherless Brooklyn,” directed by Edward Norton and starring Alec Baldwin, Bruce Willis and Willem Dafoe, at about 11 p.m. Thursday. Flames poured out the windows as firefighters swarmed the scene, dumping water on the blaze to get it under control.

Firefighter Michael R. Davidson of Engine Company 69 was assigned to the nozzle and was using the hose-line to suppress the rapidly spreading blaze. He got separated from other firefighters inside the building as conditions deteriorated and had lost consciousness when he was found by fellow firefighters. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.

“It’s 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.”

New York firefighter Michael R. Davidson was killed after a massive fire broke out at a building in the Harlem section of New York, Thursday, March 22, 2108, where a movie directed by Edward Norton was being shot. | New York Fire Department via AP
New York firefighter Michael R. Davidson was killed after a massive fire broke out at a building in the Harlem section of New York, Thursday, March 22, 2108, where a movie directed by Edward Norton was being shot. | New York Fire Department via AP

Two other firefighters suffered burns and were in serious condition, and three others were injured, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.

“Our department and our entire city mourn this tragic loss of a very brave firefighter,” Nigro said.

In a statement Friday, a statement from Norton and the film’s producers read in part: “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. 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, putting their lives on the line as they do every day. The FDNY are real life super-heroes and have our boundless admiration and gratitude.”

Late Friday, hollywoodreporter.com reported that filming has been shut down for a week. In addition, the FDNY Foundation charitable arm of New York City’s fire department is donating $25,000 and collecting contributions for Davidson’s family.

It’s not clear what caused the blaze that ripped through the five-story building in Manhattan. It was home to the former St. Nick’s Jazz Pub, a venerable bar that was closed in 2011. The building was being used to film the adaptation of the Jonathen Lethem novel of the same name. Norton was directing and starring, along with Bruce Willis, Willem Dafoe and Alec Baldwin.

Neighborhood resident Daquan Evans, 28, told the New York Post he saw Norton at the scene, and he looked visibly shaken.

“That actor Ed Norton walked right by. He looked pretty upset,” Evans said. “This is crazy this fire. You think a movie comes up here and it is good for the neighborhood. Not a fire . . . damn.”

Producers sent condolences to the family of the firefighter, according to a statement given to WABC. They said crews immediately called the fire department when they noticed smoke on the set.

Neighbors said the movie crew had set up a sign that read “King Rooster Jazz Club” about two weeks ago. Cars from the 1950s era lined the street.

“They started building the set two weeks ago and have been here every day,” Nathan Monroe-Yavneh, a neighbor, told the Daily News of New York.

Davidson had been a firefighter about 15 years. He leaves behind a wife, Eileen, and four children, three daughters aged 7, 3, and 1, along with a 6-year-old son. He was the son of retired firefighter Robert Davidson.

A Pennsylvania fire department suffered tragedy this week when two firefighters were fatally injured in the partial collapse of a former piano factory in York.

COLLEEN LONG, Associated Press