A New York City firefighter is in serious but stable condition today after being engulfed in flames while battling a fire in a Brooklyn townhome Monday morning.
Robert Wiedmann, 38, of Rescue Company 2 was battling the blaze in a room on the brownstone's third floor when a fireball sent flames from the back bedroom, encapsulating him in flames.
A cellphone video captured the dramatic moment when Wiedmann, with his head and back burning, began waving frantically for help and leaning out the room's window.
To escape, Wiedmann leapt down onto an aerial ladder, where another firefighter was waiting to pat down his body and extinguish the flames eating through his protective gear, the video shows.
Both men then moved slowly down the ladder as another firefighter on the ground showered them with water.
Neighbors watched in horror, and then awe, as Weidmann paused to let the steam rise from his body, and then, almost miraculously, moved himself towards safety.
"He was screaming for help," eyewitness Anthony Cruz said. "It's crazy."
"He was on fire, so it was just a terrible scene," said another neighbor, Ann Bing.
New York Fire Department officials said the harrowing events began as a routine response around 9 a.m. Monday to a fire on the top floor of a brownstone owned by a New York City school teacher and her family.
The family was away when the fire began, but Weidmann and his four fellow firefighters did not know that as they searched the home.
As Weidmann remained trapped by the fireball, a second firefighter fled down a stairwell towards safety.
Wiedmann's injuries included burns over 45 percent of his body, authorities said.
The second firefighter was seriously injured and remains in critical condition. Three other firefighters were treated for minor injuries.
Fire officials said the blaze was fairly routine but turned worse when firefighters couldn't get water to the house fast enough.
"If staffing had not been cut, they would have gotten water on this fire at least a minute sooner," said Steve Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association.
"This fire would have been knocked down. There would be no injuries," he said. "There would not be two firefighters in the burn center today."
The firefighter who met Weidmann on the ladder and patted the flames from his body has chosen to remain anonymous.
The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.
"They are just the greatest New York has," said Bing, the neighbor, of Weidmann and his fellow firefighters. "They did their job and my hat's off to them."