The firefighter who was severely burned fighting a fire in Crown Heights yesterday morning nearly lost his life while searching for people in a brownstone that was unoccupied. The firefighter, Robert Wiedmann, 38, was with others searching for victims on the top floor when flames suddenly exploded into the front room. Video obtained by a bystander shows him on fire and leaping onto an aerial ladder just as it reaches him. “The firefighter was about to jump," witness Victor Vargas tells the Post. "He was screaming like crazy."

"It was almost like a fireball," explains Fire Chief Edward Kiduff. "If the temperature gets too high, it explodes." Wiedmann leaped out the window on fire just as the ladder got near the window, and another firefighter swatted out the flames with his hands. He sustained burns to 42 percent of his body, mostly to his hands, torso and thighs, but his face was saved by protective gear. Another firefighter, James Gersbeck, 52, was also in the front of the apartment when it burst into flames; he was able to escape down the stairs. He's listed in serious but stable condition, as is Wiedmann.

Stephen J. Cassidy, the president of the firefighters’ union, took the opportunity to blame the injuries on staffing cuts that reduced by one the number of firefighters on many engines. "When you take one firefighter away from the team, it takes longer," Cassidy tells the Times, claiming that “there was at least a one-minute delay today in getting water to the fire, and if they had been there with a fully staffed engine, the fire never would have gotten out of the back room." But Chief Kiduff insists, "It would not have had any effect on this fire."

It took more than 100 firefighters about an hour and ten minutes to put out the two-alarm fire, the Daily News reports. The cause is under investigation. A family does reside in the apartment, but they were already en route to work and school when the fire broke out.