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Christmas rescue: Couple, cat saved by off-duty firefighter

NEW YORK -- An elderly couple and their cat were rescued Christmas night by an off-duty firefighter who just happened to be driving past their home as it was engulfed in flames, the New York City Fire Department said Monday.

"I saw the flames from a block away," firefighter Steven Carl was quoted as saying after the rescue on Staten Island.

Carl was returning home with his family from his parents' house just before midnight. He said he was met outside the burning home by a woman with burns on her face and screaming that her "babies" were still inside.

Unable to get in the front door due to the fire, Carl ran to the back where he saw an elderly couple on a tiny second-floor balcony, the department stated.

Grabbing a ladder in the backyard, Carl aided the couple, and their cat, to safety. The woman had burns and the man had cuts. Both were taken to a local hospital.

"Those people were in a bad spot and I’m just was glad I was able to help," he added.

Carl said he'd asked the couple about the babies the other woman referred to, and that those were two dogs, one of which was later rescued by responding firefighters. The other dog was unaccounted for.

As for the cause of the fire, officials said it was due to lights igniting the family's Christmas tree.

The department did not release the names of the victims or the condition of the home.