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Cory Booker fire rescue 'very heroic' but very dangerous, fire officials say

Newark Mayor Cory Booker is being hailed as hero for running into a burning building to save a neighbor's daughter. But fire officials say that such actions often end badly.  

By Ron SchererStaff writer / April 13, 2012

Newark Mayor Cory Booker speaks to the media outside a burned house in Newark, N.J., Friday. Booker said on Friday he was no superhero, only a good neighbor when he broke free from his security detail to dash into a burning house and rescue a woman.

Eduardo Munoz/REUTERS

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NEW YORK

Professional firefighters are happy that Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s rescue of his neighbor’s daughter from a burning building was successful. But they warn that most people should not try it themselves.

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That’s because home fires can become major conflagrations in a very short period of time. And they can worsen so quickly that someone rushing into a building may not be able to get out.

“A house that is on fire is what we describe as immediately dangerous to life,” says Peter Struble, the fire chief at Wallingford, Conn., and a part-time instructor at the University of New Haven’s Department of Fire Science & Professional Studies. “Without protective equipment you could perish or have permanent disability if you enter that environment.”

According to Mr. Booker, who appeared Friday on "CBS This Morning," he had returned home on Thursday night when he saw flames in his neighbor’s home. A woman was screaming that her daughter was trapped inside.

Booker ignored a member of his security detail, who was trying to keep him from entering the burning building. “Without thinking twice, he ran into the flames and rescued the young lady,” said Newark Detective Alex Rodriguez, who was on the show and was with Booker at the house.

Once he located the young woman, Booker put her on his shoulder and tried to get out of the worsening fire. He says, “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.”

Fire professionals say he was fortunate.

“The outcome was positive but it was a very dangerous decision to make and likely not to be successful if you are untrained and unequipped,” says Mr. Struble.

Retired New Haven fire chief Martin O’Connor says he has experienced people trying the same thing as the mayor but not successfully.

“It was my last fire before I retired,” recalls Mr. O’Connor, who also teaches at New Haven University with Chief Struble. “A mom went back into her house to try to save her kid and they both died.”

O’Connor says he’s seen people lose their lives by going back into burning houses to try to rescue their pets or retrieve valuables. “The catchphrase in fires is ‘Risk a lot to save a lot,’ ” he says.

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