Capt. James F. Hay and FDNY Firefighters Nicholas Gonzalez and Michael Rogdakis had zero visibility while searching for victims on the third floor of a burning house in Queens last July.
After walking upstairs, they broke down an apartment door and Hay heard Eric Broomfield, 35, moaning in the distance. Hay, of Miller Place, crawled to the rear of the smoke-filled apartment, skirting flames as he went, and found Broomfield in the bathtub.
He carried the man down three flights of stairs, giving Broomfield his oxygen pack.
"You look a lot better than when I last saw you," Hay, of Ladder 163, said Wednesday, cracking a smile as he shook hands with the man he rescued last year.
"You saved me at the last possible second of my life," Broomfield responded.
Hay, a 29-year FDNY veteran, was among 59 firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics whose bravery and valor were recognized at Wednesday's FDNY Medal Day. Fifty medals were awarded. The first Medal Day took place in 1869.
This year, the ceremony was at the 69th Regiment Armory in Manhattan, where 343 U.S. flags were raised in honor of the 343 firefighters who died at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
"I remember everything," Broomfield told Hay at the event. "You carried me through the fire. I felt you sheltering me from the flames that were on top of us."
It was the first time they'd met since the rescue.
"This was a successful one," said Hay. "He's in good shape and enjoying his life. It's rewarding to see the people you help, because we don't always get that chance."
Fire Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano praised the award recipients at the event. "Today is a great day for the FDNY because today we are a great, happy family," he said.
The firefighters received their highest praise from their families and friends, who attended in the hundreds.
"My father loves his work. We text him at work and ask him how he is doing all the time," said Gina Valerio, 9, of Massapequa Park, who proudly held a framed plaque that recognized her father, Firefighter Francis A. Valerio, for his "act of intelligent bravery."
In July, Valerio, 41, of Ladder Company 113, saved an unconscious, 300-pound man who lay on the floor of his fifth-floor Brooklyn apartment.
Manuel Gonzalez was tangled in his walker. Valerio managed to free Gonzalez, but knew he could not take him to safety via the ladder because of his weight. Instead, Valerio dragged Gonzalez to the apartment door, where firefighters were waiting to help.
"I'm so very proud of my son," said Camella Valerio of Amityville. She said he had always wanted to be a firefighter.
"His first inclination was when he was born. He was born in the car on the way to the hospital, and ever since then he has always been in a hurry as if to put out a fire," she said with a laugh.
"New Yorkers should thank their lucky stars that the FDNY has their backs," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said before presenting the medals and plaques. He later posed for photos with the firefighters and their families.