Actor and director Edward Norton paid tribute Friday to a New York City fireman who died while fighting a fire in a building in Harlem where Norton is filming his next movie.
Michael R. Davidson, a 15-year-veteran of the fire department and the father of four young children, was critically injured in the five-alarm blaze Thursday night. About 200 firefighters battled the blaze for more than three hours before it was brought under control. The cause is unknown.
“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,” Norton and the film’s producers said in a statement.
“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.”
According to Newsday, producers explained that they were "towards the end of our working day and had dozens of people working on site when our crew noticed that smoke was coming into our set and into other parts of the building from below us.”
The crew "immediately alerted the fire department and began alerting residents of the building even as we evacuated our cast and crew," producers said.
Law enforcement sources told The New York Post that Norton spotted smoke coming out of the basement of the former Harlem jazz club about 11 p.m. Thursday and told a nearby cop.
“They went down the stairs to fight the fire with Davidson as nozzleman,” FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro told media at Harlem Hospital early Friday, according to the Post.
“The fire was too heavy. They were forced to retreat and as they backed out, he (Davidson) got separated from the rest of the unit. He was found unconscious on the floor and despite the best efforts of the FDNY and EMTs, they were unable to revive him.
“Our entire city mourns his loss.”
Norton is directing a period crime drama movie called "Motherless Brooklyn," adapted from a novel by Jonathan Lethem about Lionel Essrog (Norton), a 1950s New York private detective with Tourette's syndrome trying to solve the murder of his friend Frank Minna, played by Bruce Willis.
The Warner Bros. movie also stars Alec Baldwin, Leslie Mann and Willem Dafoe, according to Variety. It is set for release next year and has been filming scenes around New York City in recent months.
Neighbors told New York tabloids that the crew began building the set about two weeks ago and had been on site every day since, setting up a sign near the building that said "King Rooster Jazz Club" and lining the streets with period cars.
One neighbor told the Post that Norton was visibly shaken at the scene of the fire.
“That actor Ed Norton walked right by. He looked pretty upset,” Daquan Evans, 28, said. “This is crazy, this fire. You think a movie comes up here and it is good for the neighborhood. Not a fire … Damn.”
Davidson, 37, came from a family of FDNY firefighters. His brother is a firefighter and their father is retired from the department. He had been cited for bravery four times in his career, fire department officials said.
“Our city lost a hero tonight,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement “The prayers of 8.5 million New Yorkers are with his wife, his four children, and his loved ones.”
The New York Daily News reported that de Blasio had left for vacation in Florida on Thursday evening before the fire but returned after Davidson's death.
Critics have blasted the mayor for being absent during previous tragedies. When he flew to Germany the day after New York City policewoman Miosotis Familia was assassinated last year, many officers turned their back on the mayor at the funeral.