NEW YORK (AP) — Traffic ground to a halt on Tuesday to make way for the funeral procession of a firefighter who was killed while dousing a blaze on the set of a new film starring Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Alec Baldwin and Willem Dafoe.
The somber scene at St. Patrick’s Cathedral unfolded on the same day a tenant in the fire-ravaged Harlem building filed a $7 million lawsuit accusing Norton’s production company of “recklessness, carelessness and negligence.”
St. Patrick’s Cathedral was packed with thousands of firefighters from the city and around the country and the relatives and friends mourning Lt. Michael Davidson.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan officiated at the funeral Mass for Davidson, a 37-year-old married father of four young children, who was overcome by smoke last week fighting flames in a building near his Harlem-based firehouse and died the next day.
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Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro fought back tears while eulogizing the 15-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York. The casket arrived at the cathedral on Tuesday morning atop a fire engine in a motorcade for which authorities cleared the Manhattan-bound Long Island Expressway in Queens. White-gloved firefighters lined bridges spanning the highway, saluting, and American flags were draped overhead.
Outside St. Patrick’s, firefighters in dress uniform stood at attention as Davidson’s casket, covered in the FDNY’s red and white colors, arrived on the firetruck adorned with his name and black-and-purple bunting.
Davidson was an elite nozzle man, one who enters a burning building carrying the water hose, firefighters said.
“Every firefighter wants that moment of battling the fire, pushing it back and feeling when you ultimately defeat it,” Nigro told mourners from the pulpit. “It’s a skill honed over time and using our most important tool, and those who battled alongside him will tell you Lt. Michael Davidson was a natural-born nozzle,” persisting on another occasion even after his arms were burned.
The cardinal, noting that Catholics are observing Holy Week, said Davidson gave his life for others, as Jesus did.
Davidson, a resident of Floral Park on Long Island whose father and other relatives also were firefighters, was born with “the DNA of the FDNY,” Dolan said.
The movie, “Motherless Brooklyn,” a crime drama, was being shot in the Harlem building, where two other firefighters suffered serious burns and three civilians suffered minor injuries.
Davidson got separated from the rest of his unit and was found unconscious in the basement. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
In the lawsuit, also filed against the building’s owner, Vincent Sollazzo, Erica Cruz said she was forced to “run for her life” and suffered “severe and permanent personal injuries” and property loss.
Cruz’s brother, George, holds the lease on the apartment and is named as a plaintiff.
“When representatives of Class 5, Inc. became aware of the fire, they did not warn tenants in the building; in fact, they misled the tenants into believing there had been a fire that had been extinguished,” the lawsuit claims.
The landlord was “reckless, careless and negligent” in failing to maintain the building in a safe condition, according to the lawsuit.
The production company had no immediate comment. Efforts to reach the building’s owner for comment were unsuccessful.
After Tuesday’s service, pallbearers carried Davidson’s bare wooden casket to the sound of bagpipes for his final FDNY trip. A sudden hush descended on pedestrians outside the cathedral on Fifth Avenue, normally a boisterous, pushy scene. Many pedestrians saluted, while others held hands to their hearts.
A cathedral bell tolled again and again as the funeral motorcade slowly drove away.