The soldier who died in a Bronx fire after saving four people will be posthumously awarded the Soldier’s Medal — the Army’s highest award for heroism that occurs outside of combat — according to the New York Army National Guard.
Pfc. Emmanuel Mensah, 28, perished in the Dec. 28 apartment building fire after returning three times to rescue family members and other residents, according to detectives assigned to the New York Police Department’s 48th Precinct.
Army Secretary Mark Esper approved the Soldier’s Medal for Mensah on Jan. 1, a New York Army National Guard official told Army Times on background.
“Our command recognized the appropriate nature of Pfc. Mensah's actions and took immediate steps, as early as December 30, to capture statements regarding this young soldier’s actions and worked with Army leaders to process the award submission as quickly as we could,” the official said in an email.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, on Friday commended Mensah’s sacrifice and called for him to be posthumously honored, but the award was indeed completed and ready to go five days before then, the Guard official said.
“Statements from any elected official since January 1 had no bearing on our actions, but we appreciate their thoughtfulness,” the official said.
Additionally, on Jan. 2, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved awarding Mensah the New York State Medal for Valor, which is the state’s highest military award and is presented for acts of heroism on and off the battlefield, according to the Army.
The Guard official confirmed that no public announcement was made of either award while the command worked with the Mensah family to “determine their desire for appropriate honors when we say farewell to him.”
“With final funeral arrangements still pending, any award presentation is yet to be decided on by the Mensah family,” the official added.
Fire department officials concluded the five-alarm fire, which killed at least 12 people, was the city’s deadliest since 1990, with the exception of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The blaze was started by a child playing with a gas stove, fire officials said. After the child’s family escaped their apartment, they failed to close their apartment door behind them, allowing the fire to spread at an abnormal rate.
“The fire quickly spread up the stairs,” said Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro in a statement. “The stairway acted like a chimney. It took the fire so quickly upstairs that people had very little time to react. They couldn’t get back down the stairs. Of those that tried, a few of them perished. Others were helped out onto the fire escapes, taken down by our members.”
Mensah was a permanent legal resident, whose family had immigrated to the United States from Ghana.
“Private First Class Emmanuel Mensah was many things: a soldier, an immigrant, a first-generation American, a New Yorker — but above all else he was a hero,” Schumer said in his Friday statement. “His courage, sacrifice and utter selflessness in the face of mortal danger during the tragic fire in the Bronx uphold the highest standards of the United States Army and make him a worthy example for every American to follow.”
Mensah enlisted in the New York Army National Guard in December 2016, and later completed Advanced Individual Training to serve as a wheeled vehicle mechanic.
He was slated to begin drilling with the New York Army National Guard’s 107th Military Police Company, at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, this month, according to the Army.
At the time of his death, Mensah was still assigned to Company A of the New York Army National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion.
Mensah’s recruiter, Staff Sgt. Ruben Martinez-Ortiz, echoed the sentiment that the young soldier represented the best the Army has to offer.
“I knew from the moment I met him his heart was as big as our National Guard family,” Martinez-Ortiz said. “He was ready to serve our nation and community. Pfc. Mensah was the embodiment of what our Army Values stand for.”