Newark Mayor Cory Booker said he “felt terror” as he shook off his bodyguards and rescued a next-door neighbor from her bed last night in a burning, smoke-filled apartment.
“I did not feel bravery,” Booker, the 42-year-old head of New Jersey’s largest city, said at a news conference this morning, his burned right thumb and forefinger bandaged. “I felt terror.”
Booker said he arrived home from a television interview about 9 p.m. to flames shooting from the second-floor kitchen window of his neighbor’s house on Hawthorne Avenue. He ran in with two members of his security detail, and one, Newark Police Detective Alex Rodriguez, tried to restrain him by his belt.
The two “had a bit of an altercation,” Booker, who is 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, told reporters at Hawthorne Avenue School, across the street from the fire scene and the tidy, three-story brick house where he lives. “We had some words.”
Booker said he ordered Rodriguez to let him go and he obliged. The mayor continued through a flame-filled hallway, dropped to the floor to avoid smoke and heard the woman call. He followed her voice as he heard explosions and saw “sparks flying everywhere.” When he reached the bedroom, it was completely engulfed in flames and Booker said he could barely breathe. He grabbed the woman and dragged her out of the house.
“We are both off to hospital,” he said to his more than 1 million followers on Twitter at 10:15 p.m. “I will b ok.”
The mayor said he was discharged from University Hospital in Newark at 11:30 p.m., after treatment for smoke inhalation and the burns to his hand, and back at his City Hall office this morning.
“I’m going to go in and try to take a nap for an hour or two,” he said at the news conference.
Booker, who is single, grew up in the northern New Jersey suburb of Harrington Park and moved to Newark in 1996. A Rhodes Scholar and Yale University-educated lawyer, Booker became mayor in July 2006 and was re-elected in May 2010. He has made crime reduction and economic development priorities of his administration.
Booker is a frequent Twitter user, having sent more than 14,000 messages about everything from responding to city residents’ complaints about garbage to sending inspirational quotes about being a leader or getting an education. The mayor has more than 10 times as many followers as Governor Chris Christie.
A 2010 study by Samepoint LLC, a social media monitoring company, found Booker to be the second “most-social” mayor in the U.S., behind his then-counterpart in San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, who now is California lieutenant governor.
Dozens of Twitter subscribers reacted to Booker’s rescue act, some with the hashtag #bookerfeats. A hashtag is a symbol used to mark a topic on Twitter. “Obama may want to step aside and let Cory Booker run. That dude is on fire. I mean really,” @Jaredewy posted. “After the incident, Smoke was treated for Cory Booker exposure,” @ZandarVTS wrote, while Sam Stein, political editor for the Huffington Post, said on Twitter that Booker “just single handedly solved the Greek debt crisis.”
Fire Director Fateen Ziyad identified the victim as Zina Hodge, 47. She was in stable condition at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, where she was being treated for smoke inhalation and second-degree burns to her neck, back and shoulders, Ziyad said.
The fire appeared to have begun on the stove, Booker said. The mayor said he has had no training in firefighting or rescue.
“While the heroics of the mayor are unparalleled, we don’t encourage people to run into burning buildings,” Ziyad said in a telephone interview.
When he arrived at the scene, one resident had escaped safely on her own, Booker said, and yelled that her daughter was inside.
The fire department hadn’t arrived by the time Booker and the victim made it out of the house, Booker said. Once back outside, Booker “started thinking about all the things that could have gone wrong,” he said by telephone.
Both were taken by ambulance to hospitals. Booker said his treatment included a mist for his irritated lungs and a kit to treat his second-degree burns at home.
Newark, about 13 miles (29 kilometers) west of Manhattan, is a 24-square-mile city of about 277,000 people, a quarter of who live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
From 1998 to 2006, Booker lived in Brook Towers in the city’s Central Ward, a public-housing project known for unreliable heat and hot water. He moved to the rented apartment on Hawthorne, in the South Ward, when Brick Towers was slated to be demolished.
“Street Fight,” an Oscar-nominated 2005 documentary, chronicled Booker’s rise to office against Sharpe James, the four-term incumbent who was convicted of fraud and conspiracy in 2008.
Newark has received national attention since Booker and Christie appeared on the Oprah Winfrey television show in September 2010 to announce a $100 million donation from Facebook Inc. founder Mark Zuckerberg for improving Newark’s school district, which has about 40,000 students.