Residents of a fire-scarred Melville town house building Friday hugged the stranger who banged on their doors before dawn, helping them escape the fast-spreading flames.
Their "hero" was a young man on his way home from work who saw the smoke and rushed to the scene.
Suffolk police credit Nick Rozenburgh, 19, of Nesconset, with helping get at least a dozen people safely out of eight town houses as a fire raged in the building's attic.
"You saved families. You saved us," a tearful Samantha Belkin, 35, told Rozenburgh during a reunion at the scene Friday afternoon.
"You've done a good thing," said another resident, Marylu Kohler, 46.
The 1:39 a.m. blaze at The Villages West off Pinelawn Road damaged four town houses. Two second-floor units suffered heavy fire damage and two first-floor units had water damage, said Town of Huntington spokesman A.J. Carter.
The displaced residents declined assistance from the Long Island chapter of the American Red Cross, with some choosing to stay with relatives as repairs are made, officials said.
The cause of the fire is under investigation but doesn't appear to be criminal, police said.
Fire officials said volunteers from Melville, Huntington, Huntington Manor, Dix Hills, Wyandanch and other departments responded. Fire crews confined the blaze to the one building.
There were no reported injuries -- a fact Belkin, a New York City teacher, attributes to Rozenburgh.
"He's a hero," she said. "We are very lucky that everyone in our unit got out safely."
A nearby resident, Gregory Grizopoulos, thanked Rozenburgh for risking his life.
"It's a pretty heroic thing," said Grizopoulos, a Nassau lawyer.
The unassuming Rozenburgh seemed overwhelmed by the heartfelt gratitude.
"I was just helping out, that's really all I was doing," he said.
The Sachem North High School graduate works as a night supervisor at a Farmingdale printing company.
He said he was heading home, about to get on the Long Island Expressway, when he noticed the billowing smoke.
Rozenburgh could have kept going, but he drove to the gated community to take a closer look.
"I had some feeling in my stomach . . . a gut feeling, I guess you could call it, that led me here," he said.
He alerted a security guard, telling him to call the fire department. Then he went to the building and began banging on doors. He could see flames.
"The scariest part is that no one was outside," he said. " . . . I was saying 'Please wake up! Someone come to the door!' "
Belkin said she woke to the sound of someone yelling "Fire!" over and over.
"I grabbed my son and his Snuggle Bear -- without our shoes and jacket or anything. We just ran," she said.
Latisia Whittle's husband heard the banging and woke her up, she said.
Whittle grabbed her daughter while her husband grabbed their son and their cat.
Friday, Whittle hugged the man she called "our buddy Nick."
Kevin Whittle, 12, gave him higher praise. "What he did was like a superhero," the boy said.With John Valenti