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FDNY honors firefighting heroes at medal ceremony

FDNY Lt. Brian J. Colleluori of Bethpage waves

FDNY Lt. Brian J. Colleluori of Bethpage waves to fellow firefighters after receiving the department's highest award, the James Gordon Bennett Medal/NYS Honorary Fire Chiefs Association Medal, at the Medal Day Ceremony in front of City Hall in Manhattan on Wednesday, June 1, 2016. Lt. Colleluori braved temperatures of over 1,000 degrees to rescue a man and woman from a burning apartment in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, on Feb. 1, 2015. The woman later died of her injuries. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Digging for survivors in a collapsed building, saving hostages from a burning apartment, pulling a baby from a roaring fire — all acts of bravery and quick thinking.

At an FDNY medal ceremony Wednesday on the steps of City Hall, families, friends and firehouse brothers and sisters reflected on these heroics performed by firefighters and rescue personnel across the five boroughs last year.

“When people from around the world talk about the greatest of New York City we think about the FDNY — the two are synonymous,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told several hundred people at the ceremony honoring 67 recipients of the 2016 medals awarded for valor, bravery and teamwork in the face of danger and death.

“They have done the extraordinary,” said the mayor, who was joined by FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro.

“This is a celebration of the dedication and training of these members,” Nigro said. He recounted the tale of off-duty firefighter Michael Shepherd, who used his lifesaving and explosives training at a gas explosion at a Lower East Side apartment building on March 26, 2015.

Though he didn’t have his protective gear, Shepherd ran into the burning smoked-filled building that was surrounded by panicked residents. Shepherd used a fire-escape ladder to rescue a woman on the third floor before returning to the apartments to search for more people.

In the process, he assessed the condition of the building and warned the battalion chief that the building’s floors and walls were near collapse. All firefighting units were ordered away from the building, which shortly after fell to the ground.

“The soles of my boots melted and the paint from the ladder was all over my hands,” said Shepherd, who was also at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I’m not afraid. I grew up having to be strong,” said Shepherd, 49, of Brooklyn. “You never ran away,” he said wearing the firefighter uniform buttons that belonged to his great-grandfather who fought the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory blaze in Greenwich Village in 1911.

Lt. Victor Milukas, 45, of Valley Stream, said medal day “is a great day — more than words can explain.” Milukas helped to save a 2-year-old toddler from a burning second-story bedroom. He found the boy unconscious underneath a pile of clothing on Aug. 24, 2015, in Brooklyn.

“It was one o’clock in the morning and there were three other children. The mother tired to go back but couldn’t,” said Milukas of Ladder Company 159 in Brooklyn. After several days in a coma, the boy began to recover. “Today he is as good as perfect,” Milukas said. He added that he developed a bond with the boy and his family. “Both our families had a whole day together. It was a good lesson on how precious life is for all of us.”

Receiving the World Trade Center Memorial Medal was Ladder Company 19 in the Bronx. Lt. Daniel O’Keefe, firefighters Kevin Donovan, Scott Kratchel, Brian Mohr, Paul Samuelson and William Willets responded to an apartment fire where a woman had been stabbed and held captive. Working with the NYPD, the firefighters rescued the victim and her assailant while containing a working fire.

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