Newark Mayor Booker saves neighbors from fire

April 13, 2012 2:19:03 PM PDT
Newark Mayor Cory Booker says he's a neighbor, not a superhero, a day after rescuing a woman from a burning house.

Booker arrived home Thursday night to find the house next door on fire, according to spokeswoman Anne Torres. Booker and two of his security detail entered the home to help its residents escape, Torres said.

There were no emergency responders present at the time, but Booker rescued one woman who was taken to the hospital.

Booker told reporters this morning that he feared for his life as the kitchen erupted in the flames and he couldn't find the woman until she called out. Booker said he could hear, "I'm here, I'm here, help I'm here." He grabbed her from a bed and threw her over his shoulder.

"I punched through the kitchen and the flames and that's when I saw Detective Rodriguez. He grabbed her as well and we got her down the stairs and we both just collapsed outside," Booker said.

Booker says he didn't feel brave, but did feel terrified as he dashed through flames with the woman over his shoulder. He described the rescue as a "come to Jesus moment." hHe couldn't breathe after he got outside, he said.

"I felt fear. I really didn't think we were going to get out of there," Mayor Cory Booker, his burned right hand still bandaged, told a news conference in front of the boarded-up home.

The 42-year-old mayor said it was very difficult to breathe as he looked for the woman, Zina Hodge, 47, whose mother had screamed she was still trapped inside the burning house.

The mayor was also taken to the hospital suffering from smoke inhalation and second-degree burns on his right hand. He was treated and released around midnight.

Booker's thumb and first finger of his right hand were bandaged when he appeared at the news conference on Friday morning.

A spokesman at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, which has a major burn center, says Hodge is in intensive care. Fire officials had earlier reported her condition as stable.

"I think he's a super mayor - and should become president," said her mother, Jacqualine Williams.

Fire officials said she and the mayor were apparently burned as embers fell from the ceiling, with the woman slung over the mayor's shoulder. The officials said the fire likely started in the kitchen.

Two members of the mayor's security detail had already taken several members of the family from the home when the mayor arrived and heard the mother screaming that her daughter was still inside.

His security detail tried to drag him away, but Booker told them that the woman was going to die, Detective Alex Rodriguez said. Booker said as he struggled to find the woman, he feared that he might die also.

"Honestly it was terrifying and to look back and see nothing but flames and to look in front of you and see nothing but blackness," Booker said. The mayor said he now has an even more profound respect for firefighters.

Booker also took to social media after the fire to let his followers know he was fine and thank them for their well-wishes.

"Thanks 2 all who are concerned. Just suffering smoke inhalation," Booker tweeted. "We got the woman out of the house. We are both off to hospital. I will b ok."

He then posted a tweet early Friday that read: "Thanks everyone, my injuries were relatively minor. Thanks to Det. Alex Rodriguez who helped get all of the people out of the house."

Booker is known for helping constituents, even shoveling snow during a blizzard that snarled his city and the Northeast in 2010.

Booker, who is 6-foot-3, was a tight end for the varsity football team at Stanford University, where he got his undergraduate and master's degrees. He got a law degree from Yale University and as a Rhodes scholar also got a degree from Oxford.

He planned to go take a nap after the news conference.

Get Eyewitness News Delivered

Facebook | Twitter | Newsletters | Text Alerts