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Newark Mayor Cory Booker Calls Fire Rescue ‘Terrifying’

Newark Mayor Cory Booker

Newark Mayor Cory Booker (credit: Juliet Papa/1010 WINS)

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – Newark Mayor Cory Booker said he has a new-found respect for firefighters after he battled smoke and flames to save his neighbor from a burning building.

Calling it a “terrifying” experience, Booker spoke to “CBS This Morning” and described how he saw his neighbor’s house on Hawthorne Avenue engulfed in flames when he returned home Thursday night.

“It is a very, very scary thing and I’d like to say at that point I was feeling so courageous, but honestly it was terrifying,” Booker said.

1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reports

Booker’s security detail was waiting for him when the fire started. Det. Alex Rodriguez ran inside and rescued three people, but wasn’t able to reach a woman, 47-year-old Zina Hodge, who was trapped in an upstairs bedroom.

That’s when firefighters said Booker showed up and ran inside, breaking by his security detail that was trying to hold him back.

“I can’t let you in,” Rodriguez said he told Booker. “But he basically told me ‘This woman is going to die if we don’t help her.’ What can I say to that? I let him go and without thinking twice, he ran into the flames and rescued this young lady.”

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Booker raced through heavy smoke and flames to find Hodge, calling out for her and eventually heard her call back, firefighters said.

“Eventually, he went to the back of the building where the bedroom was and under duress with a lot of smoke and fire spreading, heard the woman say, ‘I’m back here,'” said Newark Fire Director Fateen Ziyad. “Went in, grabbed the woman out of the bed and carried her through the fire.”

Booker said he feared for his life as he ran through the kitchen that had erupted in flames.

“I punched through the kitchen and the flames and that’s when I saw Det. Rodriguez. He grabbed her as well and we got her down the stairs and we both just collapsed outside,” Booker said.

His actions are being hailed as heroic but Booker said he’s no superhero.

“There are firefighters that do this every single day,” Booker said. “I’m a neighbor that did what most neighbors would do which is to jump into action to help out a friend.”

However, Hodge’s mother, Jacqualine Williams, said Booker is a “super mayor” and “should become president.”

High praise is also coming from Newark residents, who have been leaving the mayor messages on his Twitter and Facebook pages.

“Way to go Cory,” one person posted on Booker’s Facebook page.

“Thanks for your heroic efforts and best of luck to the others involved,” posted another.

On his Twitter page, Booker responded “Thanks everyone, my injuries were relatively minor. Thanks to Det. Alex Rodriguez who helped get all of the people out of the house.”

Hodge is in stable condition at St. Barnabas Hospital with burns to her neck and back.

Booker was released from the hospital after suffering from smoke inhalation and second-degree burns to his right hand.

“I got out and I just couldn’t breath and I kept coughing and taking deep breaths was really hard,” Booker told CBS. “I have a lot more respect for firefighters.”

This isn’t the first time Booker has ditched his coat and tie for a superhero cape.

Booker pitched in during the Christmas blizzard of 2010 and helped dig a stranded driver out of the snow. Back in 2006, he chased down an armed man suspected of robbing a bank near City Hall.

The cause of Thursday’s fire is still under investigation.

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