NEW YORK CITY — When Austin Branda heard Thursday’s massive explosion in the East Village, the aspiring Broadway drummer didn’t miss a beat, immediately springing into the role of hero.
Branda, 45, was the mystery man caught on cell phone video bounding up a fire escape in the minutes after the blast to help save a stranded woman.
The heart-pounding footage shows a frantic resident at 121 Second Ave. — where the explosion emanated — stuck on the lowest level of the fire escape, unable to lower the fire ladder and reach the ground.
Major explosion on 2nd ave and 7th street. New Yorkers being awesome and helping this young lady get down! pic.twitter.com/YxGh2C68IP— Niraj Desai (@nayramz) March 26, 2015
Branda can be seen grabbing a chair from the next-door restaurant, Pommes Frites, climbing on it and preparing to jump up to grab the lower rung of the ladder.
Luckily, he didn’t have to make the leap as the woman, with the instruction of an off-duty firefighter, was able to release the ladder down to the ground.
“She finally got it released, and I just flew up,” Branda told DNAinfo New York Friday morning.
When he reached the woman, he got her to hand over her cell phone, then guided her down the ladder as he moved from one rung to the next below her.
“I was body-guarding her against the railing, so if she fell, I’d catch her,” he recalled.
Branda, who works as an usher at Broadway shows, but dreams of joining the pit orchestra as a percussionist, said he was practicing his drums in his apartment when the blast knocked him off his seat.
“I pretty much got blown out of my chair,” he said. “My teeth rattled — and my heart and chest.”
His apartment was directly across from 121 Second Ave., so when he looked out the window to see what happened, he saw the wreckage. The blast had torn through four buildings, leaving a fiery inferno.
Branda said he immediately thought there was a terrorist attack and scanned the street for anyone acting suspiciously.
Then Branda thought back to his childhood, when he lived in Italy while his dad attended medical school there. He remembered a similar explosion of the dry cleaner underneath their home.
“[My dad’s] reaction was to grab ice and towels,” Branda recalled. He did the same Thursday and then headed to the street.
“I ran out of the building and as soon as I ran out, I fixed my eye on this lady on the fire escape,” he said.
When he got the woman back on the ground, he rubbed her back and said, “I’m sorry about this,” to her.
After the good deed, he headed back to his apartment to check on his cat.
Branda said helping the stranded resident wasn’t a big deal.
“I was just one of the guys helping,” he said.
His fiancée, Jessie McGee, thinks otherwise.
“In my eyes, he's a true New York City hero every day," she said, "always quick to help anyone he sees in trouble.”