Blaze Erupts Beneath a Movie Set in Harlem, and a Firefighter Dies Rushing In

Firefighter Michael Davidson was a nozzle man — he’d be at the front of the hose line, leading the charge into a burning building. And that’s where he was, one last time, on Thursday night, after his engine company, No. 69, pulled up near a once-storied jazz club in Harlem that had a fire raging in the cellar beneath it.

He would die before the night was done.

The club, St. Nick’s Pub, had been dormant since a police raid shut its doors in 2011. But in recent weeks it was transformed into a set for an Edward Norton film, an adaptation — set in the 1950s — of “Motherless Brooklyn,” a novel by Jonathan Lethem.

On Thursday night the crew was filming a final scene at the bar — one in which the actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw makes an entrance — when a smell like wood smoke seeped onto the set. The crew tried to sniff out its source, and someone even sprayed a fire extinguisher at the lights over the bar, said Charles Kern, an on-set scenic artist. Then it became clear that the fire was coming from the cellar.

Everybody out, came the call. Crew members grabbed what equipment they could, Mr. Kern said. Roughly 30 extras fled. Outside, some crew members began to move several classic cars to make room for fire engines. Others tried to use their lighting equipment to illuminate a path for firefighters.

Michael Davidson was a 15-year veteran of the Fire Department.Credit…New York Fire Department

One city official briefed on the early stages of the investigation said the team’s air began to run low. When the canisters have about 7 or 10 minutes of air left, they vibrate and emit an alarm, the official said. The so-called vibra-alerts went off on the canisters, and the firefighters began to retreat, following a “hand line” to find their way out, the official said.

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