Decorated Firefighter Dies in Blaze at NYC Set of Ed Norton Film

News Staff

New York, NY

A decorated FDNY firefighter and father of four, the oldest just 7 years old, died when a fierce fire erupted in a Harlem apartment building where a star-studded movie directed by Edward Norton had a shoot overnight, officials say.

Michael R. Davidson, a 37-year-old from Floral Park who has been with the FDNY for 15 years, died from his injuries while battling the fire at a five-story building on St. Nicholas Avenue and 149th Street, the FDNY said early Friday.

The blaze broke out on the set of "Motherless Brooklyn," which, according to IMDB, is being directed by Norton and stars Bruce Willis, Willem Dafoe, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Leslie Mann.

An NBC 4 New York photographer spoke to one of the actors, who said they had just finished filming for the day when they smelled smoke while they were breaking down. They called the fire department around 11 p.m. Thursday.

Davidson was the nozzleman, meaning his job was to run the hoseline, of engine 69, which was the first to arrive at the five-alarm scene. The crew rushed to the basement, but the FDNY said once they got down there, the fire got worse, forcing the firefighters to retreat from the building. Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said Davidson somehow got separated from his group "inside the rapidly deteriorating fire conditions." 

They turned back to search for him. When firefighters found him, he was unconscious. He later died. A cause of death has not been released.

Officials said two other firefighters suffered serious burns in the blaze. Those injured firefighters are being treated at an area hospital’s burn center. Three other civilians suffered minor injuries.

Davidson, who has been cited for his bravery and life-saving actions four times during his career, leaves behind his wife and four young children — three daughters, ages 7, 3, and 1, and a 6-year-old son. He comes from a long line of firefighters. His father, Robert, who is now retired worked in the same firehouse as Davidson. His brother, an 11-year veteran, works at Engine 88 in the Bronx.

“Our entire department, our entire city, mourns this horrific loss of a very brave firefighter," Nigro said. "Our hearts and our prayers go out to the family and may God rest his soul."

Eric Phillips, Mayor de Blasio’s press secretary, said the news of Davidson’s death made him sick to his stomach.

"This is an awful night," Phillips tweeted. "We’ve lost an NYC firefighter."

Davidson is the 1,150th firefighter to die in the line of duty in the FDNY’s 153-year history. His death comes about a week after two FDNY firefighters, who were also members of the 106th Rescue Wing of the Air National Guard based in Westhampton Beach, died in a U.S. helicopter crash in Iraq.

The St. Nicholas Avenue building where the fire started is the old St. Nick’s Pub, according to a witness who lives nearby. The witness also told News 4 New York that the film has been shooting there for weeks.

The crime and drama film, which is set to be released next year, is about a lonely detective afflicted with Tourette syndrome, working to solve the murder of his only friend, according to IMDB. The movie is set in 1950 and is based on a novel by Jonathan Lethem. 

The producers of "Motherless Brooklyn" said in a statement that they immediately notified the fire department once they noticed smoke coming into the set and started alerting residents of the building so that they could get out. 

"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," the statement said. "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.”

The FDNY said the fire was under control around 2:30 a.m. Friday, more than three hours after it broke out. It’s not clear what may have sparked the blaze.

Spelman Beubrua was led, gasping and choking, out of his smoky apartment by firefighters. He lost all of his possessions in the fire. He broke down when he said the only reason he was alive was because of the FDNY.

"I’m here talking to you, it’s because of them," Beubrua said behind tears . "Then to come here and find out that one of them did not make it. It hurts. It hurts."

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