On April 12, Newark Mayor Cory Booker saved a neighbor from a blazing house fire -- a dramatic rescue that he admitted was absolutely terrifying.
The dramatic rescue began at around 9:30 p.m. that night, when Booker and two officers from the Mayor's security team spotted a fire at a house on Hawthorne Avenue belonging to Booker's neighbor. They went over to investigate.
On the first floor, they found a couple, who told them that the woman's daughter and a man were trapped upstairs. Booker and Newark Detective Alex Rodriguez then went to the top of the stairs, where the home's kitchen had erupted in flames.
They first saw a man trying to douse the fire, and told him to get out. Then they heard Zina Hodge, 47, yelling for help from somewhere beyond the burning kitchen.
"This woman is going to die!" the mayor recalled saying at that moment.
"It was very scary, and I consider myself very lucky," Booker said. "There was a time I got through the kitchen and was searching for her, and I looked back to see the kitchen in flames. It was really a frightening experience for me. I didn't think we'd get out of there."
Despite the flames, Booker was determined to get Hodge, whom he has known for six years and considers a good friend. "When I come home from a really tough day, she's there to tease me," he said. "She's just a really good human being."
Rodriguez, however, tried to stop his boss because the fire was getting worse. "Something exploded [in the kitchen], and at that point, my security men did what they're trained to do, which is get me out of danger," Booker said. "So Detective Rodriguez and I had a bit of an altercation. He was literally pulling me by the belt. Finally, I whipped around, we had some words, and he relented. In the end, I am his commanding officer."
Booker said he had to crawl on his hands and knees to get to the bed where Hodge was lying, because the rising smoke was so thick that he would have passed out from smoke inhalation if he did not get down on the floor. In a smoky fire, the cleanest air can be found near the floor, so the correct thing to do is to crawl to safety.
Booker put Hodge over his shoulder and carried her back through the kitchen -- where fire was shooting up the wall and flaming embers were showering down around them. At this moment, Booker said he feared for his life.
"Honestly, at that point, I did not feel bravery -- I felt terror," he said. "It looked like I couldn't get back from where I came from. And I couldn't breathe." But he eventually got back to Detective Rodriguez, and they both took Hodges out of the house.
"She didn't have many clothes on, so she sustained more severe burns than I did," Booker said. "I was holding her and my clothes got burned, but my hand was the only part of my body that got burned."
Two days later, as Hodge was treated for a few third degree burns plus other second degree burns, her mom, Jacqualin Williams, showered Booker with praise. "I think he's Super Mayor," she said. "He should stay mayor and then become president." Booker said he didn't feel like a hero, and balked at being called Super Mayor. "I think that's way over the top. There are people who do this every day," he said, referring to police officers and firefighters.
But Hodge's family feels that Booker was a real hero. "That was great," said Hodge's brother, Roderick Lucas, 38. "My uncle tried to get into the burning house, and my nephew too. Neither one of them could get through, but the mayor did."
If you or someone you know suffers an injury such as third degree burns or smoke inhalation, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, New York so that the personal injury attorneys in that firm can determine whether another party has legal liability for injuries suffered, and if the injured party has a strong legal case.