Over 20 people were injured during yesterday's intense gas explosion in the East Village which led to total or partial collapses of three buildings. Four people were critically injured and at least two people are still missing, but a lot of other residents of the buildings were saved thanks to various good Samaritans.
The Daily News reports that one of those rescuers was an off-duty firefighter who took charge at the scene in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, and then took it upon himself to climb up a fire escape to rescue people. "He said to me, 'I have to get up there, I have to look for other people,'" musician Austin Branda told the News. "He told me he was a firefighter, he said, 'Get the hell out of my way.'"
You can see a video of the man rescuing someone below.
Witness Peter Frank, 25, also saw the firefighter in action at the scene: "He was moving very deliberately, he went up very fast and he was looking in every window," said Frank. "It was very methodical. I saw him kick out at least one window." He added that they came down about 30 seconds before the flames engulfed that area of the building.
The Times writes about the firefighter:
A different man ascended the ladder, climbing up to the higher floors as smoke seethed from the building’s base. He knocked on windows, calling out for residents to evacuate. People below screamed for the man to climb back down as the fire grew.
“It turned into pretty dramatic flames, 30 or 40 feet above the building,” Mr. Cole said.
That man wasn't the only one who scaled the building immediately: below, you can see a graphic cell phone video of another man climbing up right after the explosion, courtesy Steven Koziol via the Post.
The off-duty firefighter was identified by the NY Times as Mike Shepherd, 47, who works at Squad 41 in the Bronx. He recalled how he tried to convince the woman to come down the ladder ("She was panicking. I told her, I said, ‘Honey, you got to calm down and listen to me.’ I said, ‘Bend with your legs and lift it up so it unhooks and then just let it go.’ And she was like, ‘I can’t.’") and was happy he wore cotton pants, "Because if I’m going to burn, I don’t want polyester."
Filmmaker Blake Farber, 29, told the Daily Mail he happened to be walking past Sushi Park when the explosion occurred: "I passed some people running away from the building that seemed OK, and one woman lying on the street," he recounted. "Then I saw this man trapped under one of the metal grates in the street. You could just see so much pain on his face, he was trying to get out but couldn't."
"Four of us ran over and pulled him out," he continued. "His face was covered in smoke and ash. He looked like he was in a lot of pain. It was scary. We got him on to the sidewalk and lay him down safely then got told to back off —they thought it was going to blow again."
"Beautiful New York," Farber said to the Times. "Everyone jumps to help."
Witness Chris Mosier told us he had just finished eating at B&H, a vegetarian canteen next door to one of the collapse buildings, and was crossing 2nd Avenue at 8th Street when he felt a huge boom: "I looked back and just saw people running on the street, like nobody was running from the restaurant, just bystanders running out of the way," he told us. "And when I looked back it was like the first two floors of the building, like the face had kind of blown off. So I called 911 and people started to gather pretty instantly, there was a huge scene of people before police showed up."
He observed a woman come out of a fourth floor window and climb down the fire escape as other people helped her down at the bottom. Other people were wandering around in the rubble of Sushi Park. He added:
When I ran over, there was a man who had been either blown off the sidewalk or out of the building, maybe from the second floor, but I don't know. Blood by his head, and as I ran over there were three or four bystanders who were picking him up and carrying him across the street. And he was totally unconscious. They took him over by a car straight across the street. At that point there was no movement or no one moving out of the first floor of that restaurant. My assumption was when I ran over there that people were probably trapped under some of the building that had fallen forward. I didn't see anybody there, I didn't see any movement.