Stating repeatedly that he is “not a hero,” Mayor Cory Booker met with reporters this morning to talk about his rescue of a woman trapped by fire in a building adjacent to Booker’s home last night.
“People say bravery. I felt fear,” said Booker, who appeared at a press conference this morning with a bandaged right hand. “I really didn’t think we were going to make it out of there.”
“I had a conversation with God I've never had before," he added.
Booker was returning to his home on Hawthorne Avenue from an interview around 9:30 pm when he and members of his police security detail saw flame boiling out of the second-floor windows of a two-story apartment building directly adjacent to Booker’s residence.
“It was like something out of ‘Backdraft,’” said Det. Santos Duran, one of the officers with Booker last night.
Booker and members of his detail rushed into the home and helped residents get out, including one man who was attempting to battle the fire with buckets of water. But Booker re-entered the home when he heard cries coming from the second floor.
Booker as well as members of his security detail said this morning that they tried to pull the mayor out of the building, but he was “adamant he wasn’t leaving”, said Det. Alex Rodriguez, another member of the security detail.
“When he went in, maybe two or three minutes, it seemed like an eternity,” Rodriguez said. “The kitchen was engulfed in flames and there were mini-explosions. That’s why I wouldn’t let him go.”
“Det. Rodriguez and I had an altercation, he was pulling me by the belt,” Booker said. “But I pulled rank and he let go of me and I went into the kitchen.”
The woman he was searching for, 47-year-old Zina Hodge, was in a bedroom at the back of the gray stucco building, beyond the burning kitchen.
A disoriented Booker made his way through the kitchen, following Hodge’s cries, pulled her out of bed and then carried her out of the apartment. The blaze, whose cause is not yet known, was brought under control in less than 10 minutes, Newark fire officials said at the scene this morning.
Hodge is being treated at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston for burns and is listed in serious* condition. Booker was treated for smoke inhalation and the injury to his hand and released.
Booker, who said he was operating “on pure adrenaline,” candidly admitted his fear as he tried to make his way through a smoke-filled apartment where he could barely breathe.
“There was no air. She and I are very lucky we made it out of there,” Booker said.
“I have a deeper respect than I ever had before for firefighters....the firefighters of this city are doing this on a daily basis,” he added.
This is not the first time the mayor of the state's largest city has exhibited a bit of derring-do. Det. Santos Duran, who has been on Booker’s detail for about six years, said the mayor once helped chase down a robbery suspect on foot after the man crashed his car right in front of them.
Another of Booker’s neighbors, Blondie Bloxton, expressed her admiration for the mayor’s feat this morning.
“That was a shock last night. Thank God for Mayor Cory Booker. Thank God for him.”
*Editor's note: A previous version of this report said Zina Hodge was in stable condition.