"I felt fear. I really didn't think we were going to get out of there," Mayor Cory Booker, his burned right hand still bandaged, told a news conference in front of the boarded-up home.
The 42-year-old mayor said he rushed into the burning home shortly after returning from taping a television appearance on Thursday, pushing aside his security detail that tried to hold him back and rushed into the apartment where Zina Hodge, 47, was trapped.
"Every time I breathed in, I felt a blackness, a heat coming into my lungs," Booker said, adding he made his way down the smoky hallway to a bedroom, following Hodge's faint calls of; "I'm here, I'm here. Help! I'm here." He lifted her from a bed where she had been sleeping and was now barely conscious, Booker said, but then couldn't find the way out.
"That was the moment I had a conversation with God," Booker said.
Booker was treated at a hospital for smoke inhalation and second-degree burns.
Hodge was listed in serious condition Friday in the intensive-care unit of the burn center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston. Fire officials said she had suffered second-degree burns to her back and neck and smoke inhalation. The hospital would not provide details of her injuries.
Booker downplayed his actions, saying he just did what any neighbor would do, "which is jump into action to help a friend."
"I didn't feel bravery, I felt terror," he said. "It was a moment I felt very religious, let me put it that way."
Hodge's mother was thrilled by the mayor's actions. "I think he's a super mayor -- and should become president," Jacqualine Williams said.