Nurse Deirdre Taylor was leaving her Virginia home to fight Covid-19 in New York and she made sure she took along something precious that she had held on to for three decades, a front-page newspaper article.
It was an article documenting Taylor’s rescue from a burning New York City apartment by a firefighter in 1983 when she was just four years old.
The picture showed little Taylor with the man who saved her, Eugene Pugliese. “I always knew I came close to losing my life that day,” Taylor said, “Without him, I wouldn’t be here. I had a second chance at life, thanks to him.”
40-year-old Taylor, is an emergency room nurse who lives in Alexandria, Virginia with her husband and two kids, but has always wanted to know what became of the firefighter who saved her.
She tried searching for him online, but couldn’t get any information there. Now as she was going to spend two months on the frontlines of fighting against Covid-19 at NYU Langone Hospital in Brooklyn, Taylor saw this as an opportunity to finally find him.
During one of her shifts, she told a firefighter her story and he called the current captain of FDNY Ladder 20 in Manhattan, who knew exactly who Taylor was looking for.
Taylor gave Pugliese a call right after her shift and was very happy to hear his voice on the other end. “I wondered about him on 9/11 and hoped I would get the chance to thank him, and I finally did,” said Taylor.
Now 75 years old, Pugliese was “on cloud nine” when he got the call from Taylor on Friday. “The two of us just sat there crying on the phone,” the Spring Lake, New Jersey resident said, adding that he’s had the same article framed on his wall for 25 years now. “She turned out to be a remarkable woman with a magnificent life.”
While Taylor remembers only bits and pieces of what happened on that December day in 1983, Pugliese, who retired 24 years ago, remembers it vividly.
Pugliese was in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan checking water pipes when he was approached by a man who said there was a fire down the block.
Pugliese followed the man to a building of loft apartments where he noticed smoke coming out of a sixth floor unit. When he entered the smokey apartment, Pugliese noticed and rescued a woman who then said her child was inside the apartment.
“She kept screaming, ‘My baby!’ so I went back in and found a young girl who was unconscious,” said Pugliese, who then gave her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until she became conscious.
“I didn’t see her ever again after that, but I always wondered about her,” said Pugliese, who received the Walter Scott Medal for Valor for his rescue of Taylor.
Pugliese and Taylor got to know that there were many things in common when they reconnected. Taylor joined the United States Army on her 17th birthday, eventually serving in the National Guard as a helicopter pilot before she left to start a family and study to become a nurse.
Pugliese became a firefighter, and served as a sergeant in the Marine Corps where he fought in the Vietnam War. “On top of that, we’re both die-hard Yankees fans!” said Taylor
Taylor and Pugliese have spoken twice since they reconnected on Friday and hope to meet once the lockdown ends, probably at a Yankees game. “I hope to meet her soon, maybe later this summer,” said Pugliese. “I’d love to meet her two children and go to a Yankees game together.”