NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A firefighter pulled a resident to safety in a daring roof rope rescue early Thursday morning from a massive apartment building fire on the Upper East Side that left one person dead.
A firefighter, harnessed to a rope, dangled over the flames that poured out of 324 East 93rd Street to save James Duffy, 81, who was trapped on the fifth floor.
Speaking exclusively from his hospital bed with CBS2’s Brian Conybeare, Duffy recalled the frightening ordeal.
“The smoke was so black and dark and heavy I really didn’t think I’d make it,” he said. “To me that is the miracle on 93rd.”
Duffy was burned on his arm, back, and leg, but said he’ll be okay thanks to firefighter Jimmy Lee.
“There was a guy who needed to be helped and we did it,” Lee said.
Because the flames were moving so fast Lee had to do a ‘roof rope rescue.’ It’s a perilous last resort when the FDNY has to get someone out fast and there’s no other way.
“I heard a gentleman with his head out of the window say, ‘I’m burning’ and the fireman said to wait, we’re coming to get you, and then I saw a rope go down,” one witness told 1010 WINS’ John Montone.
Lee told reporters at the scene that he grabbed the man out of the window and lowered him to the ground.
“I told him to stay calm and when we got down, I said, ‘I hope you enjoyed the ride.’ He sort of smiled and he was thankful,” Lee said.
Fifteen seconds after he and the man hit the ground, Lee said the rope burned through.
“Right when we got to the ground, we got him off and the rope burned through, the flames came right through the window,” he said.
Lee said he’s never had to do a rope rescue in the field, CBS2’s Magdalena Doris reported.
In the chaos, some firefighters shouted up to Duffy, others on the roof lowered Lee down in a harness so he could grab the man who suffers from asthma through his kitchen window.
“That’s probably one of the most dangerous evolutions that we do and that’s why we train so much on it,” Lee said.
The lifesaver rope is rarely used by the FDNY. It’s been five years since a fire victim was rescued by rope, 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported. Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro called it “an extraordinary rescue.”
“I can’t say enough about the danger involved in that type of rescue,” he said in a tweet.
Mayor Bill de Blasio on Twitter called the rescue “simply heroic.”
Duffy recalled being trapped on the fifth floor as flames came fast and furious, and shot into the dark sky along with thick smoke.
“Couldn’t get to the roof cause that was on fire, couldn’t get down the stairs because the smoke was dark and very thick,” he said.
Duffy spoke with CBS2’s Andrea Grymes by phone on Thursday afternoon, from his room in the Weill Cornell burn unit — injured but thankful.
‘Couldn’t see anything, so I just waited at the kitchen window, hoping and waiting that the firemen would coem up, and he did thank God. So I call it a miracle,” he said.
The six-alarm fire broke out around 3:20 a.m. Thursday and quickly spread throughout the building. Flames could be seen pouring out of windows as smoke billowed into the sky.
Larry Garvin ran out onto the third floor fire escape as debris fell from above.
“I was on there for about 10 minutes. They came up and covered me up, there was stuff and put a ladder up on the fire escape and I came down the ladder,” he said.
Duffy was severely burned and is in critical condition, but alive.
In all, 12 people were hurt in the blaze, including four other civilians and seven firefighters who suffered minor injuries. Officials said the person who died was found on the third floor of the building.
The fire was finally brought under control about three hours later, but the building was destroyed. The Red Cross says it is assisting 18 families who were displaced.
Lee, a 13-year veteran of the FDNY, left the scene Thursday to bring cupcakes to his daughter’s school for her fifth birthday, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.