What to Know
A 6-year-old girl rescued from a burning building by an FDNY firefighter in 2002 is now a 21-year-old aspiring firefighter
Anissa Cruz, who now lives in Florida, sought to reunite with Lt. Stephen McNally while she was in New York -- and she got the chance
The two hugged as she thanked him, while the retired lieutenant said he was "happy for the choices she has made; she is making a difference"
Nearly 16 years after being rescued from a Bronx inferno, Anissa Cruz, now an aspiring firefighter herself, reunited with the FDNY hero who saved her and her mother.
The 21-year-old Cruz, who currently lives in Florida, paid a visit to Engine 75 Ladder 33 on Walton Avenue in the Bronx to see the now-retired FDNY lieutenant Stephen McNally face to face and thank him for his heroism.
"Lt. Stephen McNally was my big hero that day and he did everything make sure I was OK," Cruz said.
The lives of Cruz and McNally intertwined on June 9, 2002, when McNally responded to a fire in a Bronx building. Inside, McNally found a semi-conscious woman in a bedroom who he brought out to safety; that's when she informed him that her 6-year-old child was still inside the building. McNally went back into the burning building, found an unconscious Cruz and carried her to safety.
"I remember everything in the room got very hot," Cruz said. "I remember feeling suffocated. I was overwhelmed and terrified."
Though her father died tragically in the fire, Cruz and her mother — who both suffered smoke inhalation and burns — survived, thanks to McNally.
"It was a difficult situation, seeing a child in that condition, but seeing all of her accomplishments is overwhelming," McNally said during the reunion.
McNally was awarded the Arthur J. Laufer Memorial Medal in 2003 for his bravery during the tragic fire.
This harrowing event years ago has shaped Cruz's life so much that she recently graduated from the Fire Academy at Indian River State College in Florida in hopes of becoming a firefighter.
"I was given a second chance and now I want to give somebody else theirs," Cruz explained.
McNally had words of encouragement for the young woman, who, thanks to him, is following in his footsteps.
"I am happy for her and the choices that she has made," he said. "It is fantastic. She is making a difference, trying to help people and that is awesome."