January 16, 2018
On Monday, January 15, retired FDNY Lieutenant Stephen McNally was reunited with the young woman he saved from a fire on June 9, 2002.
Anissa Cruz, 21, is a newly graduated Firefighter from the Fire Academy at Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, FL. In 2002, a fire in her family’s home on East 182nd Street in the Bronx took her father’s life and critically injured both Anissa, who was 6-years-old at the time, and her mother.
“I remember everything in the room got very hot. I remember feeling suffocated. I was overwhelmed and terrified. That event stuck with me and since that day, I have gained so much perspective. When I made the plan to come back to New York to visit family this month, I knew I was going to visit the firehouse and tell my story,” said Cruz.
Just after 2 a.m. that night in 2002, as Anissa slept, a fire started in the kitchen and spread thick smoke throughout the apartment.
Lt. McNally, who was a Firefighter in Ladder Company 33 at the time, responded along with his fellow Firefighters from Engine Company 75 and Ladder 33. In zero visibility and without the protection of a hose line, he searched the fire apartment and found Anissa’s mother, who was semi-conscious in a bedroom. He removed her safely to the front entrance, where she told him that her daughter was still inside. Without hesitation, he passed the fire to continue his search, where he found 6-year-old Anissa unconscious and carried her to safety.
Anissa and her mother suffered smoke inhalation and serious burns, but survived thanks to the courageous actions of then Firefighter McNally and all responding members that night. For his bravery, he was awarded the Arthur J. Laufer Memorial Medal at the 2003 FDNY Medal Day Ceremony.
Anissa currently resides in Florida where she is beginning her career as a Firefighter. Since that terrible experience as a young child, she vowed to one day follow in Firefighter McNally’s footsteps and become a Firefighter.
“I want to let him know that instead of holding on to that event and fearing it, I grew from it. He was my big hero that day and he did everything to make sure I was ok. I wanted to give back the same way. I was a given a second chance and now I want to give somebody else theirs,” added Cruz.
Just days before their reunion, Anissa had arrived back in New York City and was hoping to meet Lt. McNally, thank him again, and let him know he had inspired her new career. She stopped by the firehouse and the current members were able to reach Lt. McNally, who retired in 2010, and arrange the special meeting.
Recalling the fire, Lt. McNally said, “It was a difficult situation, seeing a child in that condition, but seeing her now and seeing all of her accomplishments is overwhelming. I’m happy for her and the choices that she has made. It is fantastic. She is making a difference, trying to help people, and that is awesome.”
For photos from the reunion, click here.