City Council to make historic vote on firefighter safety legislation

Davidson Family
The Davidson family held onto a picture of their son, Michael Davidson, during a Zoom meeting just before a historic New York City Council vote on fire safety legislation.

The parents, brother and widow of fallen firefighter Michael Davidson joined together for the first time publicly since his death in 2018 during a deadly film set blaze to celebrate new safety legislation.

Councilmembers Joe Borelli and Robert Cornegy, FDNY Uniformed Firefighters Association President Andrew Ansbro and Vice President Robert Eustace joined Davidson’s family members for a Feb. 25 morning Zoom conference before new fire safety measures are set to be voted on in the New York City Council later Thursday.

Through this virtual press conference family and elected officials discussed exactly what protections the New York legislation is set to employ. 

“This would be both the first and last time a firefighter would die on the set of a film in New York City,”  Borelli said.

Under these new bills, 1849-A & 1852-A, movie productions would be required to notify the fire department of filming locations and would also have to have a fire safety marshal present on set at all times. This is in order to prevent similar deaths from occurring again.

In 2018, Davidson perished when he and fellow firefighters responded to a March 22 fire three years ago at 773 St. Nicholas Ave. in Harlem. Family members and fellow FDNY peers say the first responders were unaware that the source of the blaze was also a movie set being used on the “Motherless Brooklyn” production.

Laden with artificial walls, Davidson became confused and separated from his colleagues where he ran out of air and died.   

Borelli kicked-off the Zoom discussion, sharing that during City Council meetings, they often hold a moment of silence for first responders who have passed away. He recalled Davidson’s death, still fresh in his mind, and how it could have been prevented.

Councilman Joe Borelli moderated the Zoom meeting to discuss the legislation that would protect firefighters.

“He showed up with the rest of the crew that was working that night at Engine 69 and the building was being used as the set of a film. This death is very different from the awful deaths that we sometimes mourn in City Council that I mention. We can’t cure 9/11 cancer, we can’t prevent all accidents or heart attacks or things like that. But when it came to the circumstances that lead to Michael Davidson’s death, we actually could do something about it. We can change how we allow film sets to operate in the city. That’s what Councilman Cornegy and I will be doing today,” Borelli said.

Borelli underscored that had this situation occurred due to the negligence of a landlord, an arrest and prosecution would have been made, but since it was a film set this issue slipped through the cracks. 

“When a responding company rolls up to a fire they will know that building or that structure is being used as a film set and if there are temporary alterations and partitions possibly obstructing their work,” Borelli said. “We will require safety officers on site while pyrotechnics or combustible material and effects are in use.” 

The initial concept for this legislation came from widow Eileen Davidson, and with the help of the FDNY-Uniformed Firefighters Association, they worked to make sure Michael Davidson’s death would not be in vain. 

While gripping her four children tightly, Eileen Davidson fought back tears and thanked everyone in attendance for their aid and support.

“The weight of what we feel on a daily basis is indescribable,” she said. 

Eileen Davidson, widow of Michael Davidson, held onto her children, thanking everyone for their support in pushing for legislation that would keep her husband’s memory alive.

Attendees complimented Eileen for her strength and fortitude pushing for her husband’s memory to stay alive by ensuring no one else feels the same pain she experienced upon learning of her husband’s death. She attributes her steadfast dedication to the continued help of Eric Davidson and her unwavering love for her husband. 

“On my strength, but what it really comes to is the love that I have and will forever have for Michael. That’s what allowed us to do this, and so I thank you for not allowing his loss to be in vain and for making sure that moving forward the phone call that we received will never happen again because of this situation. It was really unfathomable to think that there was such a lack of regulation of checks and balances if you will when it comes to this industry,” Eileen Davidson said.

She solemnly recalled her late husband’s love of films, who often recited witty one-liners from major motion pictures. Eileen knows that the films and arts are the marrow of New York City, and she is grateful that Hollywood has seen the importance of the new legislation. 

“This is a good day for us. I’m probably coming up on three years, the first day that I truly feel happiness in my heart because this is the legacy that my husband deserves, and it’s been an honor to be a part of the process to ensure that he does receive this legacy and this honor,” Eileen said.  

Michael Davison’s brother, Eric Davidson, also attended the Zoom, standing in between his parents as they held onto a picture of the fallen firefighter. Both parents were still grief-stricken over the loss of their son at just 37 years old, and nodded in agreement as Eric thanked supporters. 

“This bill is about the safety of the firefighters, the safety of the citizens of the city, and the safety of the film workers on the set. We are happy that this is going to go through. It has been a tough couple of years. We just wanted to make sure that no one has to go through what we went through for the last few years,” Eric said.

Eric stressed that the fire department will always be something that people can count on to show up and help, and this bill will just provide firefighters a fighting chance.  He finished his comments by looking into his web camera, smiling and said to Eileen, “We finally did it.”

The legislation was expected to pass later without opposition.