A New York Army National Guard soldier died after saving four others in a massive apartment fire in the Bronx borough of New York City on Dec. 28, the Army confirmed Tuesday.
Pfc. Emmanuel Mensah, 28, is credited with returning to the burning building three times to rescue family and other residents, before ultimately succumbing to the flames as well, according to detectives assigned to the New York Police Department’s 48th Precinct.
In the aftermath, New York City Mayor William DeBlasio praised Mensah, who was born in Ghana but was a permanent legal resident of the United States.
“Private Emmanuel Mensah was a first generation immigrant, a soldier, and a New Yorker. He gave his life rescuing his neighbors in the Bronx fire. His heroism exemplifies the best of our city. Rest in peace,” DeBlasio wrote on Twitter.
The New York Fire Department responded to the five-alarm fire in a little over three minutes, according to the department.
When first responders were finally able to breach the building, they found Mensah’s remains. Based on the position of his body, he was still working to rescue people, according to statements provided to the New York Army National Guard.
Mensah had previously lived in the building and was visiting home after completing military training in Virginia, the Army said.
A fire department investigation concluded that the blaze was started by a child playing with a gas stove. 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.”
Local news outlets are reporting that at least 12 New York City residents died in the fire, which started sometime after 6:30 p.m. Dec. 28.
Mensah enlisted in the New York Army National Guard in December 2016. He completed Advanced Individual Training to serve as a wheeled vehicle mechanic and was to begin drilling with the 107th Military Police Company after the New Year, according to the Army.
Staff Sgt. Ruben Martinez-Ortiz, who recruited Mensah, said that he was a model soldier.
“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.”
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.