A group of young dancers and their teachers avoided tragedy as they escaped from a burning second-floor dance studio Monday.
The fire tore through Professional Arts Academy, located on the second floor of a mixed-use building in Edgewater, New Jersey -- just across the river from Manhattan. There was an auto body shop, car wash, health spa and restaurant on the first floor of the building. The fire started at about 6:30 p.m., according to officials.
Video shot by an onlooker shows a handful of children and instructors trapped on the balcony of the dance school with people below trying to raise ladders to help them escape. A couple children jump onto the ladders, before eventually the people on the balcony are forced to fall the 10 feet to the ground.
Five people were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, according to Edgewater Fire Chief Steven Curry.
Mayor Michael McPartland said they were "very fortunate here tonight" more people weren't injured.
"I happened to be just down the block when the fire started," McPartland said. "We looked out the window, I was standing there with a friend of mine, and we started running up the street."
Tony Nehmi, who owns a store nearby, was one of the men who raced to the studio to help with the rescue. Nehmi said he and a policeman saw two young girls trapped, who were standing in a large bay window. He shouted for them to break the window, but the girls were unable to do so. Eventually, Nehmi used a ladder to break the window.
"When I saw them trapped inside that window, screaming and crying, there's nothing they can do," Nehmi said. "I tried a couple of times, me and the policeman, to break it and finally we did.
"I said, 'Don't worry, don't worry, I'm here,' and ... then we grabbed the two girls and we bring them down and they were safe. ... They had a couple of cuts from the glass because when we broke the glass they had bare feet."
The mayor praised Nehmi and two officers during a press conference Monday night.
"I'll tell you what, it was one of the bravest things I've ever seen," McPartland said. "They helped the girls and their dance studio members evacuate from the second floor. It was kind of dramatic."
Curry said it appears the fire started on the first floor, but are still investigating.