The off-duty firefighter seen coaxing a woman from an East Village building damaged by a gas explosion spoke to the press yesterday. Mike Shepherd, 47,told reporters, "I was scared but I did it anyway," adding, "You just hope it ain't that time."
Shepherd had been running errands in the neighborhood and had finished his lunch right before the chaos began. "I heard a loud explosion and I look down the block and I just started running toward the corner," he said. A woman was on a fire escape at 121 Second Avenue, struggling to unhook the ladder, and Shepherd told her how to release it. Then, Austin Branda, a drummer who lives across the street, climbed up the ladder to help her down.
Then, Shepherd climbed the ladder to search the front apartments and saw that the floors inside were filled with smoke and had started to collapse. It's believed at a gas explosion at 121 Second Avenue led to the initial blast, followed by a seven-alarm fire that completely collapsed 119, 121 and 123 Second Avenue. He told the NY Times:
“All the people were screaming from the street, ‘You got to get down, the fire is getting big!’”
He was taking in smoke — or as he put it, “taking a feed.”
“And then I could feel the heat coming up,” he said. “There’s heavy smoke. I didn’t realize how fast it took off and how much time,” he said, pausing. “I mean, I had no time.”
As he was beginning to come down, he said, he could see his colleagues' engines heading to the scene. As he climbed down, he started to feel overwhelmed for the first time.
“I just kind of kept my cool, and got down,” he said. “I didn’t realize how bad it was until I got down and the heat was hitting me in the face, and the smoke. I said, ‘Thank God I didn’t have to pull somebody out.’ But I knew, I saw the truck and the engine from the fire escape, coming, so I knew the truck could have put the bucket up to me if I needed to.”
Noting how there were two men missing, Shepherd said he regretted he didn't have his gear to go inside to search for victims.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said, "Our off-duty firefighter had already been cited six times for bravery. Now it looks this will be his seventh." Shepherd said, "It being a New Yorker, you're always willing to go out and help somebody, you know... I don't know. There's just something that drives you to go do good, you know?"
If you’re interested in donating money to help those affected by the East Village explosion, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City is accepting donations. Checks should be made out to the NYC Mayor's Fund with a note that they are earmarked for the East Village Collapse. In kind donations are not being accepted at this time.