81-Year-Old Man, Firefighter Share Story of Fire Rescue on Upper East Side

Jim Duffy figured he was seconds from death.

A six-alarm fire was swallowing his East 93rd Street building. Then, a firefighter appeared at his fifth floor window who introduced himself as Jim. The 81-year-old Yorkville resident actually laughed.

Duffy casually recalled his escape from near-certain death at the Upper East Side Rehabilitation and Nursing Center Thursday, where Duffy recovered from his injuries after the fire last October. 

Remarkably, his rescuer, FDNY Lt. Jim Lee, remembers him just as calm as flames danced overhead that October night.

"That's when I knew we'd be safe," he said. 

The two shared their story in the hopes that others can learn from Jim's cool-under-pressure ways.

"It's so important to keep calm," Lee said.

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There was only one way down: a dangerous rope rescue, captured by cellphone video. The FDNY says it hadn't been tried since 2011 — it's the drill most practiced, but rarely used.

"Nobody ever thinks they're gonna do it, but because we do train in it so much, we were ready for it," he said.

It was literally help from above: on the way down, the rope caught fire. Crew on the roof noticed and radioed to move quickly. From greeting to ground, saving Jim Duffy's life took three minutes.

"He said 'Did you enjoy the ride?' And I said 'Yeah I did!'" Duffy said, recalling the quick and miraculous rescue.

Jim, for sure, is enjoying his life — and his new friend.

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