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Fireman Who Died Fighting Movie-Set Blaze Honored As ‘Hero Of The Highest Order’

Thousands come to St. Patrick’s Cathedral to pay respects to firefighter who died on the set of “Motherless Brooklyn.”

By JB Nicholas

A sea of grief and blue uniforms swelled around St. Patrick’s cathedral this morning as thousands of fire-fighters, police officers and ordinary New Yorkers lined Fifth Avenue for the funeral of New York City firefighter Michael Davidson, who died battling a five-alarm fire on a movie-set in Harlem late last Thursday night.

The fire, in a building housing the former St. Nick’s Pub, a Jazz Club, is believed to have been sparked by a faulty boiler, according to the New York Daily News.

When the fire started, the club was being used to film “Motherless Brooklyn,” a movie adaptation of the Jonathan Lethem novel, directed by Edward Norton, starring Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Leslie Mann and Willem Dafoe, according to Variety. 

Davidson, 37, a 15-year veteran, and father of four, charged into the burning building. He was a “nozzleman,”according to FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro, operating a hoseline with small team of firefighters from his company, Engine 69. The group fought through flames to the basement, where the fire apparently originated, but were forced to retreat by heavy smoke. 

Somehow while backing out of that building, Firefighter Davidson was separated from the rest of the unit,” Commissioner Nigro said later that night at Harlem Hospital according to CBS New York. 

“Members tried desperately to find Firefighter Davidson. When they did, he was unconscious. Despite the best efforts of the members, members of our firefighting forces, EMS and here at the hospital, they were unable to revive Michael and he perished.” 

Davidson’s coffin rode in the back of Engine 69 down Fifth Avenue Tuesday in a long, solemn procession to the storied cathedral, lead by a honor guard of police officers and FDNY bagpipers. His wife, Eileen, three daughters ages 7, 3 and 1, a son, age 6, his brother Eric, and scores of other members of his large, extended family followed behind in white FDNY vans.

Each of the vans bore the names of other fallen firefighters; each a reminder of the risks all firefighters face, and the sacrifices they make.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan stood on the steps of the cathedral, welcoming the procession inside the grand, dim, cavernous space.

“Never did I meet this hero but now — now I along with this entire teaming metropolis feel that I know him very, very well,” Cardinal Dolan said in his homily. 

New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio conveyed condolences and praise on behalf of all New Yorkers, and called Davidson a “hero of the highest order.” 

Then Davidson’s brother, Eric, also a New York City firefighter, spoke: 

"There’s a famous saying in the fire department – ‘Just do the right thing.’ Doing the right thing is the easy part. But knowing what the right thing to do is, well, that’s the hard part. For most people. But not Michael. He somehow always knew what the right thing to do was, and that’s exactly what he did.” 

After the funeral, Davidson’s family followed his casket out of the cathedral into the street, where bagpipes played as firefighters placed the casket back onto Engine 69 for his final journey. His wife, Eileen, held their 3 year-old daughter, Emily, in her arms and watched. Then Emily waved goodbye to her father, as her mother’s face contorted in grief.

[Photo: JB Nicholas] 

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