The flames broke out on the 11th floor of the building on Casals Place in Co-Op City around 2:50 a.m.
An 85-year-old man identified by family members as Bernard Edwards, a retired NYPD officer, was found unconscious in an apartment. He was rushed to Jacobi Medical Center, where he later died.
His 45-year-old daughter was found suffering from smoke inhalation in the hallway and was also hospitalized, while two firefighters suffered minor injuries.
Heavy smoke was reported through the 33 story apartment building, which has 251 apartments.
"It was difficult to get up there with the wind," FDNY Deputy Chief William McCormack said. "We used a suppression blanket to block the wind on the windows so the engine company could get in there and put the fire out. It was a pretty severe fire in the apartment."
The FDNY went door to door to check on residents. Most were sleeping when the smoke began creeping into their apartments.
"I was scared," tenant Frank Bobbie said. "I just smelled something burning."
Residents are anxious to find out what caused the fire and are heartbroken that their neighbor lost his life.
"It's sad to hear that somebody died," Bobbie said. "Very sad."
The Red Cross was also on the scene to provide assistance, and the investigation is ongoing.
Authorities said the fire appeared electrical in nature and that Edwards was sitting in an electric recliner at the time, though it's unclear if that's where the fire started.