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Firefighters Lauded For Rescue Efforts In Deadly Upper East Side Blaze

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- There was praise Friday for some 250 members of the FDNY who responded to a deadly fire on the Upper East Side.

As CBS2's Alice Gainer reported, the firefighters performed a daring rope rescue to save one tenant in the Thursday blaze, and they were talking Friday about their efforts.

The fire broke out around 3:30 a.m. Thursday at 324 E. 93rd St. One man – identified Friday as Lemmy Thuku, 25 – was killed in the blaze. He died after being trapped in the third floor hallway.

Eleven others were hurt in the fire.

On Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio visited the Upper East Side firehouse whose company responded to thank some of the firefighters for their heroic work. There were cheers, handshakes and pizza.

"It's like something out of an action movie," de Blasio said at Engine 53 and Ladder 43 headquarters.

Firefighters used a rare rope rescue to save 81-year-old resident Jimmy Duffy from the six-alarm blaze, Firefighter Andy Hawkins was on the team involved in the rescue.

"The rope was on the floor, so I picked up the rope and I found a substantial object -- it was a small chimney in the back of the building. I tied around it and took the rope and tied another knot and put it through my harness," said Hawkins, a 13-year veteran. "Two guys lay on me because, just in case I go anywhere."

"Nothing like this – this was a career fire; a big one," said firefighter Walter Gilroy.

Jimmy Lee was the firefighter on the rope being lowered down.

"Once we got down and I looked back up and saw the rope was on fire, that was a bit intimidating," Lee said.

The FDNY released photos of the charred rope.

Upper East Side Fire Burned Rope
A rope that was used to rescue an 81-year-old man from a fire on the Upper East Side on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016. (Credit: FDNY)
Upper East Side Fire Burned Rope
A rope that was used to rescue an 81-year-old man from a fire on the Upper East Side on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016. (Credit: FDNY)

CBS2 earlier spoke exclusively to Duffy, the man who was rescued.

"To me, that was the miracle on 93rd," Duffy said in an exclusive interview with CBS2 from his hospital bed. "He is an angel from heaven who got me out of that kitchen window."

Harnessed to a rope, Firefighter Jim Lee dangled over the flames to rescue Duffy, who was trapped inside the building.

"The smoke was so black and dark and heavy I really didn't think I'd make it," Duffy said.

It's a dangerous operation and a last resort that Lee said was necessary because the flames moved too quickly for any other option.

"I guess it is fairly risky, but you don't think about it when you're doing it," Lee said. "There was a guy who needed to be helped and we did it."

It's been five years since a fire victim was rescued by rope. Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro called it "an extraordinary rescue."

"It says a lot for what our members are willing, the harm that they are willing to place themselves in for the sake of others," Nigro said.

Duffy was burned on his arm, back and leg, but says he'll be OK.

The building was destroyed in the fire, and others were damaged. Twenty-eight people were displaced.

"Everybody became homeless in one minute," one man told CBS2's Magdalena Doris.

Despite the destruction, neighbors say they are happy to know the FDNY is ready to respond on a moments notice.

"We owe a lot to them, and it could have been a lot worse," neighbor Jonathan Luciano said.

The FDNY says the preliminary cause of the fire appears to be accidental and electrical.

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