July 19, 2007, 3:39 pm
A Bloody Face in the Blast, and the Man Who Helped Her

By The New York Times

explosion
A police offi­cer and Kieran Beer, left, helped a woman injured in yesterday&8217;s steam pipe explo­sion. (Photo: Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

It has instantly become the iconic image of Wednesday evening’s steam pipe explo­sion: the shocked face of a woman cov­ered in debris, her salmon lip­stick and nail pol­ish match­ing the color of the muck on her neck. The man hold­ing her hand and car­ry­ing her beige pock­et­book in the Reuters pho­to­graph, a scene cap­tured by Brendan McDermid, is Kieran Beer, the editor-in-chief of Fortent Inform, a news and legal data ser­vice for finan­cial institutions.

He is look­ing away.

This morn­ing, the pic­ture appeared in The New York Times, The Daily News and The New York Post, where it took up a full page, along with sev­eral other papers, many as far away as Canada. Mr. Beer agreed to share his thoughts with read­ers of The Times. Below is his account.

It’s almost 3 p.m. and I’m still avoid­ing press calls – ABC, “Inside Edition” and The New York Post. Instead, I’ve been focused on get­ting my staff back to work. Our offices at 99 Park are in the hot zone and we have a real-time finan­cial news ser­vice to feed. And, it’s eas­ier for me to focus on work than all this activ­ity around the explo­sion yesterday.

The New York Times got through because my wife handed me the phone think­ing it was our friend Dahlia. The woman from The Times apol­o­gized for not being Dahlia and sug­gested that since I, as a jour­nal­ist, was uncom­fort­able “being news,” maybe I’d would be will­ing to write about it. “You know, this is the iconic photo of the day,” she said.

I look pretty dis­tressed in the photo. I was, but mostly about the photo being taken. I under­stood the pho­tog­ra­pher was doing his job, but I really didn’t want be part of the story. There was a mob of peo­ple with cell phone cam­eras, but I’m sure this one was taken by the guy with the tri­pod. He took two, mov­ing the cam­era twice to keep it a respect­ful dis­tance in front of us. I knew imme­di­ately that the photo would be dra­matic and was likely to get picked up by news­pa­pers. That’s why I’m look­ing away from the cam­era. I felt I should stay with that woman, but I didn’t want to be in the picture.

My being there with her at that moment began with me stand­ing at the cor­ner of 41st and Lexington on my way to mail a let­ter to my son at camp. I’d run into Lynn, a reporter who had worked with me at The Bond Buyer (a daily news­pa­per that cov­ers munic­i­pal finance, includ­ing infra­struc­ture projects!). She’d told me she was expect­ing a baby boy in December and we were talk­ing about the unique plea­sures around hav­ing sons. Suddenly, I saw the back of a city bus mov­ing down Lexington con­vulse, rise up and smack down again on the pave­ment. I thought the back of the bus was falling off and then there was an explo­sion and, after an instant, dust and steam ris­ing from the street. When we spoke an hour later, Lynn told me it was the look on my face that got her mov­ing up 41st to Park so quickly. Unlike me, she did not look back.

I started to run after her, but turned around after about 20 feet to look at the ris­ing wave of dust and water. Suddenly, large and small rocks were falling from the sky. Covering my head with my hands I made it half way up the street where three peo­ple were stand­ing in the door­way of a check-cashing place. I pushed in and they fol­lowed. Then the del­uge of rain cre­ated by steam came, throw­ing rocks against the win­dows. We all stepped back from the door.

Everybody was pretty shaken and started to debate what had just hap­pened. I thought it might be a bomb, but some­body argued that it wasn’t loud enough. A man behind the glass enclo­sure at the check cash­ing place was on the phone and said it was a Con Ed trans­former explo­sion. Everybody wanted to go keep going fur­ther from Lexington, but the roar of the falling steam, mud and rocks was fright­en­ing. The woman in the pic­ture, bleed­ing and caked in mud appeared at the door and I let her in. A rock shat­tered the glass pane as we tried to close it behind her. I tried to get her to sit down and she asked for tow­els or some­thing to wipe her face so that she could see. A woman behind the glass got some paper tow­els and slid them to me under the open­ing for transactions.

A man came to the door shout­ing that we had to keep mov­ing. All of us, except the two behind the glass par­ti­tions, just started to move toward the doors. The steam and rocks were still falling, but the rocks were vis­i­bly smaller. I was wor­ried about the woman, and protested that it would be tough for her to go far. But since every­one was going, I told her I’d carry her purse and help her.

As she walked she told me she had just had hip surgery and was wor­ried that her stitches had been ripped open. I just kept lis­ten­ing to her, nod­ding. The only thing I could think to do for her was to lis­ten, let her lean on me and hold her hand tightly. At Park and 41st she sat down on some steps and tried to make a call on the mud-caked phone I fished out of her purse. A man, who in the papers today was iden­ti­fied as a physician’s assis­tant, stood over her look­ing for the source of bleed­ing and asked if she wanted a neck brace, which she refused say­ing she’d had back surgery at some point and that the brace would be worse than nothing.

Several police offi­cers were radio­ing for an ambu­lance and after a few min­utes it became clear she would have to get to Madison and 42nd, where the ambu­lances were. A police­woman joined us, and the three of us began to walk to 42nd and then toward Madison. The woman was sure now that her stitches had opened. And then there were all those cell phones and cam­eras, includ­ing the man with the tripod.

The physician’s assis­tant arrived with a chair with wheels to take her to the ambu­lance. I asked if she wanted me to go to the ambu­lance with, but she said no and I put her purse on her lap. She looked at me and seemed sud­denly con­cerned. “Where do you live?” she asked. “Brooklyn,” and then I waved good-bye to her.

As I’ve told all the jour­nal­ists who have called, I don’t know the name of the woman. It just didn’t seem impor­tant at the time. What seemed impor­tant was stay­ing close to her, let­ting her know that some­body cared and get­ting her help. Like every­body else, I cer­tainly hope she is O.K.

And, now I guess I should return some of those calls from the press. The New York Post wants to test my clothes for con­t­a­m­i­nants, and the guy from “Inside Edition” asked my wife, who was screen­ing calls for me, if I’d already cut a deal with “GMA” or “The Today Show.”