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'A Very Brave Firefighter': FDNY, Family And City Mourn Firefighter Michael Davidson, Killed In Harlem Movie Set Blaze

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the department and the entire city is mourning the loss of a 15-year veteran firefighter who was killed while battling a late night fire in Harlem.

Firefighter Michael R. Davidson of Engine Company 69 died at Harlem Hospital after being pulled from the burning unoccupied building on Saint Nicholas Avenue near 148th Street.

The fire broke out around 11 p.m. Thursday in the basement of the closed St. Nick's Jazz Pub where a movie, "Motherless Brooklyn," was being shot. Firefighters responded to the blaze, but the flames were so intense that crews were forced to get out.

"Somehow while backing out of that building, Firefighter Davidson was separated from the rest of the unit," Nigro said.

The fire commissioner said after a desperate search, Davidson was found. He was taken to the hospital, where he later died.

In a tweet, Mayor Bill de Blasio said "our city lost a hero."

"The prayers of 8.5 million New Yorkers are with his wife, his four children and his loved ones," de Blasio said. Flags at City Hall were ordered to half-staff in his honor.

Hundreds of firefighters gathered for the solemn moment was Davidson's remains were escorted from the hospital to a funeral home. Firefighters lined the route, saluting during the journey. 

Nigro said Davidson, 37, was appointed as a firefighter in 2003 and was cited for bravery and life-saving actions on four different occasions during his career.

He was a married father of three young daughters and one son, ages 1 to 7 years old.

The sadness in their Floral Park neighborhood was palpable Friday as the devastating news made the rounds, CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported.

"The woman has four young children, wow," one mourner said. "What a shame." 

Neighbors said Davidson was always caring and helpful to everyone around him.

"Just a wonderful individual," said neighbor Jim O'Brien. "As a neighbor, one of the best."

"My husband told me at work, so the crying happened at work, but very sad," neighbor Janet Murray said.

"He was up and down the sidewalk, shoveled for everybody here yesterday," said neighbor Joanne Caldon. "Always a smile, always something nice to say. Good guy, good dad."

"Even yesterday afternoon he was out playing with the kids in the snow," she added.

Peggy Heally said the news was announced during morning mass.

"Everybody just gasped, really," she said.

Heally said Davidson had shoveled her sidewalk the day before.

"He was just the kindest, loveliest man you'd ever want to meet," she said. "I didn't know who did it, and I realized it was him going back to his house, and I shouted, 'Michael, thank you!'" 

Davidson worked at Engine 69 and Ladder 28 every day for the last 15 years. His community in Harlem was almost like a second home, reported CBS2's Reena Roy.

Outside his firehouse, New York's Bravest could be seen leaning on each other for support, hugging as they arrived for the first time since they learned Davidson was killed.

Michael Allen lives next door to Engine 69 and Ladder 28 on West 143rd Street, and remembers him as a hero.

"As soon as I put the television on I saw Michael Davidson's face and I said 'Oh no.' I was like the worst news I could get this morning," Allen told Roy. "I put my coat on, came across the street, just started hugging the fellows from the platoon and we all cried together."

Allen says four years ago Davidson and fellow firefighters helped him rescue an abandoned baby found in a Renaissance Playground across the street from the firehouse.

"Michael Davidson and his division came and we got the baby out of the park," Allen said. "He was really a brother to the community and a brother to me."

Even complete strangers dropped off food, water and flowers.

"We live on the block where the fire happened and we felt moved, compelled to say, 'thank you, we see you, we appreciate you,'" said Naima Beckles.

Davidson showed that kind of dedication over and over again. Throughout his career he was recognized four times for bravery and life saving actions.

"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."

Davidson's father is a 26 year veteran of the FDNY who was primarily in the same Harlem firehouse as his son. Davidson's brother is also in the FDNY, currently serving as a firefighter in the Bronx.

"We are really having a hard time," a relative told CBS2.

The producers of "Motherless Brooklyn" released a statement, saying "our hearts ache in solidarity with his family."

"New York City firefighters truly are the bravest in the world," the statement said. "The FDNY are real life super-heroes and have our boundless admiration and gratitude."

The president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association was among those mourning the loss, calling it a "horrific tragedy."

"Our hearts break for FF Michael R. Davidson's wife, Eileen, his four children and his brothers at Engine 69 and Ladder 28, and all of our FDNY family," UFA President Gerard Fitzgerald said in a statement. "FF Davidson is a hero, and in his death embodies the title of 'Bravest.'"

The New York Police and Fire Widows' and Children's Benefit Fund said it would provide financial support to Davidson's family, both immediately and annually for the rest of her life.

"We are heartbroken for the Davidson family and for the entire FDNY community," said Lauren Profeta, president of Answer the Call. "We pledge to never forget his sacrifice or his beloved family."

To learn more about the New York Police and Fire Widows' and Children's Benefit Fund or to donate, click here.

The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation pledged $100,000 to help pay off the family's mortgage. The film's producers, crews and staff will work with the foundation to help, as well.

To learn more the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation or to donate, click here.

A fundraiser will also be held Saturday at Bierstrasse, with all door, bar and food proceeds going toward the victims' fund.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

The FDNY says Davidson is the 1,150th member die in the department's history. His death comes on the heels of the death of FDNY Lt. Christopher Raguso and Fire Marshal Christopher "Tripp" Zanetis, who were killed in a helicopter crash while serving as part of the Air National Guard in Iraq.

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