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FDNY Medal Day returns after pandemic honoring heroic first responders from pair of fiery rescues

The Medal Day ceremony marks the FDNY’s largest public event since the onset of the pandemic, with more than 1,000 people expected to attend


Larry McShane
New York Daily News

FDNY hero Abraham Miller, on a roof six stories above a Manhattan street, heard the screams before spotting something through the flames and billowing smoke: A child’s tiny hand, extended from an apartment window.

As a colleague lowered Miller down by hand with a rope, with the screams of other residents echoing through the darkness, the five-year veteran tried to put the 5-year-old girl at ease.

“I told her, ‘We’re coming, we’re coming, relax,’” he recalled of the daring Sept. 29, 2020, rescue. “Once I had her in my arms, she was crying and I said, ‘Just put your arms around my neck.’ The ride down was the longest ever.’”

The FDNY firefighter will be honored Wednesday with the Peter J. Ganci Jr. Memorial Award, the department’s highest annual award for bravery, renamed last year for the late chief of department. Ganci became the FDNY’s high-ranking uniformed member to die in the line of duty on 9/11.

The Medal Day ceremony marks the FDNY’s largest public event since the onset of the pandemic, with more than 1,000 people expected at the USTA Louis Armstrong Stadium in Queens for the celebration.

Ganci, who was scheduled for jury duty on the morning of the terrorist attack, instead headed to the World Trade Center and was killed when the north tower collapsed.

“It’s particularly an honor when it’s named for a guy who didn’t have to be there and showed up,” said Miller. “It means a lot.”

Miller’s death-defying rescue came after the Washington Heights fire call came in around 4:30 a.m. He was on the roof with firefighter Jairo Sosa, who will also be honored at the ceremony, as they realized the situation in the sixth-floor apartment below.

The little girl was trapped with her grandmother inside the bathroom of their home as the fire raged on the fifth floor beneath them.

“We had no time to argue about it,” Miller recalled of the decision to rappel down. “We just had to go ... The only thing going through my mind, honestly, was ‘I’ve got to get this kid.’ It was almost like a higher power was pulling the strings that night.”

The award’s name was changed last year, with the department repudiating the racist beliefs of its original namesake James Gordon Bennett.

Among the other honorees will be FDNY Emergency Medical Technicians Gary Hui and Samuel Wright, winners of the Christopher J. Prescott Medal for their rescue of an unconscious man from a burning dump truck following a five-vehicle accident in Brooklyn on April 22, 2020.

The two were sitting inside their ambulance when they noticed a column of smoke about six blocks away and swung into action.

They arrived to find the burning truck against a utility pole with both doors locked. A bystander smashed the passenger side window before Wright crawled through the shattered glass to reach the driver. He and Hui were able to pull the man to safety just before the truck filled with flames and its tires began exploding.

“It was like any normal day and we looked up to see the thick black smoke,” recalled Hui. “Our first priority was getting him out. I remember the explosion, the tires going ‘Pop! Pop! Pop!’”

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