Decades after a little girl nearly died in a fire, she found a way to connect with the man who gave her a second chance at life.
Deirdre Taylor is a 40-year-old emergency room nurse, married with two children. In 1983, when she was a little girl, her home in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood caught fire. A neighbor heard her mother’s cries for help and summoned a firefighter, Eugene Pugliese, who was down the block with other members of NYFD Ladder Co. 20 checking some water pipes. They immediately dropped everything and went to the fire.
Pugliese went up to the loft on the sixth floor of the building, where the flames were consuming the apartment, and rescued a woman he found inside. She kept screaming, “My baby!”
The little child named Deirdre was surrounded in smoke. “I went back in and found a young girl who was unconscious,” Pugliese remembers in an interview with CNN reporter Mirna Alsharif. He took her out and gave her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and the child regained consciousness.
The story was published in many newspapers. Some of them included the photograph of the fireman with the girl in his arms. Pugliese was briefly something of a celebrity, and was awarded the Walter Scott Medal of Valor.
Before long, of course, the story was forgotten by the media — but not by Pugliese or Taylor.
“I didn’t ever see her again”
“I didn’t see her ever again after that, but I always wondered about her,” Pugliese explains to CNN.
Although they hadn’t met since that occasion, Deirdre Taylor kept in her heart the heroic act of the firefighter who had saved her life. She even had the front page of that newspaper framed and on display in her home. What she didn’t know was that Pugliese did the same thing with the same newspaper clipping.
Time passed, and Deirdre moved to Alexandria, Virginia. She’d never been able to locate the man who had saved her life, but she still wanted to meet him. This year her opportunity came.
Because of COVID-19, Deirdre, a nurse, went to help at New York University’s (NYU) Langone Hospital in Brooklyn. The return to the city reawakened her desire to find the man who saved her life. After all, the reason she could be caring for COVID-19 patients now was because Eugene rescued her all those years ago. What could she do to locate him?
“I wondered about him on 9/11 and hoped I would get the chance to thank him, and I finally did,” she told CNN.
She didn’t even know where to start, but she wanted to try. “I always knew I came close to losing my life that day,” she told CNN. “Without him, I wouldn’t be here. I had a second chance at life, thanks to him.”
A clue thanks to another firefighter
On her Facebook page, Taylor tells how it went down. At the hospital in Brooklyn, she told her story to some firefighters who had stopped in to thank the emergency department staff.
They gave her the phone number for the station where Pugliese had worked, so she could call and ask for information. That put her in touch with the current Fire Chief of the New York City Fire Department’s (FDNY) 20th Ladder Division, and he immediately knew who the nurse was talking about.
The chief explained that Eugene Pugliese was retired and lived in Spring Lake, New Jersey. He called Pugliese to tell him Taylor was looking for him, and soon, Pugliese called Taylor back.
The connection was immediate. They were thrilled to recognize each other.
“The two of us just sat there crying on the phone,” Pugliese told CNN. Taylor says in her Facebook post, “While I would love to meet him in person, I don’t want to risk exposing him to this awful virus. We have agreed to meet up some other time, hopefully later this summer.”
Retired FDNY Firefighter Eugene Pugliese rescued Deirdre Taylor from a fire in 1983 when she was four years old. Taylor, an ER nurse volunteering in NYC during the COVID-19 pandemic, tracked down FF Pugliese and the two reunited yesterday by phone. https://t.co/MhpOvCJgPbpic.twitter.com/nAWq32bGDY— FDNY (@FDNY) May 26, 2020
“A magnificent life”
The firefighter is now 75 and proud of the little girl whose life he saved in that fire. She is now a wife, a mother, and an emergency nurse, taking care of COVID-19 patients.
“She turned out to be a remarkable woman with a magnificent life,” Pugliese told CNN.
Taylor says at the end of her Facebook post, “I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to say thank you to this incredible man and I hope I get the chance to do so in person. Today, my heart is full.”
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