Lt. Michael Davidson, the New York City firefighter who died from smoke inhalation battling a devastating blaze last week at the Harlem building where Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn was filming, was mourned at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Midtown Manhattan today and praised by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio as “a cornerstone of his fire house, his community, and above all his family.”
New Yorkers lined the streets outside the cathedral as a fire engine delivered the casket, while firefighters stood at attention along Fifth Avenue. The block was closed to traffic.
In a remembrance posted on the Facebook page of the FDNY, Davidson’s brother Eric Davidson, also an FDNY firefighter, wrote “In May of 2003 when he joined the FDNY, Michael became a hero to the people of New York City. But to me, Michael has been my hero my entire life…From the day I was born, he was watching over me. And I know that he still is and always will be.”
Michael Davidson died March 23 after a fire broke out, apparently in the basement, of a residential building that also housed a former, closed jazz club, where Motherless Brooklyn was filming. The film based on Jonathan Lethem’s novel stars director Norton along with Bruce Willis, Willem Dafoe and Alec Baldwin. The building, on Harlem’s St. Nicholas Avenue, will be demolished.
Over the weekend, Norton wrote a lengthy Instagram post describing the fire and paying tribute to Davidson. Here, in its entirety, is Norton’s post:
Many of you know that the crew of our film ‘Motherless Brooklyn’ experienced a dramatic and ultimately tragic event on Thursday night, in which a fire engulfed the building we were working in and an FDNY firefighter died fighting the blaze. Thanks to the many, many people who have written to us supportively. Our team’s formal statement on the event is here in the slideshow. It has been reported in some news outlets that the fire ‘started on the set’. This is incorrect. It appears to have started in the basement cellar of the building we were working in. We were filming in a bar and an apartment within the building and our crew noticed smoke rising up into where we were working. It has been reported that I was the one who smelled smoke and raised an alarm. This is incorrect. I was outside setting up a shot outside the building. Our fantastic 1st AD was the first to notice the smell of smoke before anyone even saw it and it was he and others on the crew who acted decisively and quickly to try to locate the source of the smoke, evacuate cast and crew, call the fire department and then rapidly move our equipment and vehicles away so that the FDNY had clear access. I cannot praise the professionalism of our crew highly enough. Had our team not noticed the situation and responded and alerted the fire department with the speed they did, I believe the residents of the building above would have perished. And though we described what we saw the FDNY do in our statement and articulated our feelings, it’s worth doubling down. I have never witnessed firsthand that kind of bravery. I’m in awe of that kind of selfless courage. It’s devastating to contemplate that one of the men we watched charging in there lost his life. Please send a prayer of thanks for the spirit and courage of Michael Davidson. Our team is committed to honoring him and assisting his family and, in due course, when we can determine with his family what form they’d like that to take, I’ll pass along any information I have about a verified way people can contribute.
Later, Norton posted a second Instagram spreading the word about an FDNY Foundation scholarship fund set up for the four children of the fallen firefighter.