Then he saw two little girls through a window on the second floor trapped inside the building.
Nina Twomey, 12, was one of the last dance students to escape the fire by dangling from a second-story balcony until she fell to the ground below. "We didn't have that much time", good Samaritan Toni Nehmi said. It became very clear, very fast, that the ladders were not tall enough, so bystanders told the children to jump into their waiting arms.
The children can be seen throwing clothing and backpacks from the balcony as adults below race to get ladders in position and help them down.
Lee sustained a few minor injuries from falling down but is otherwise OK.
"I was the one who called the fire department".
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"It was one of the bravest things I've ever seen", Mayor Michael McPartland explained of the girls. "I didn't care. I just want to get them out, before anything happens". Smoke from the fire was reportedly seen in Manhattan. "I didn't know what to do".
A video shows the girls screaming as they escaped from the second story balcony while rescuers tried to help with ladders. Others are forced to drop to the ground below.
"Five people have been transported to local hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries", said Edgewater Fire Chief Steve Curry from the scene.
The fire sent plumes of smoke in the air that could be seen for miles, and the flames quickly burned through the building that also housed a auto wash and a restaurant in addition to the dance studio. The cause of the fire is under investigation.