NEW YORK — U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer wants the Army to posthumously honor a U.S. soldier and native of Ghana who raced repeatedly into a burning New York City apartment building, saving four people before he died in flames that also claimed a dozen other lives.
Army National Guard Pfc. Emmanuel Mensah, 28, "was many things: a soldier, an immigrant, a first-generation American, a New Yorker — but above all else he was a hero," the New York Democrat said in a letter to the Army requesting that Mensah be formally awarded for his sacrifice.
Mensah perished Dec. 28 on a frigid night inside the five-story Bronx apartment building where he lived before joining the military a year earlier, Army officials said. He was home for Christmas after finishing National Guard basic training in Fort Lee, Virginia.
The fire, the city's deadliest since 1990, was accidentally started by a child playing with a gas stove, fire officials said. After the boy and his mother fled, flames spread up a stairwell and consumed the inside of the building.
When the fire broke out, he was sleeping on the first floor, according to Schumer, who cited reports from police, first responders and other witnesses. He was able to exit the building, the senator said. But Mensah then ran back into the inferno multiple times, helping four people escape before succumbing on an upper floor, according to a New York National Guard statement that cited police reports.
A fire department spokesman said fire officials could not confirm details involving Mensah's specific actions.
Schumer has written to Army Secretary Mark Esper urging the military to issue the soldier a posthumous award recognizing "the Army values of personal courage, selfless service and duty."
Col. Richard Goldenberg, a National Guard spokesman, said the military is working with Mensah's relatives to decide on final arrangements, services and ceremonies.
Mensah was to begin drills this month with the New York Army National Guard's 107th Military Police Company, based at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn.
"I knew from the moment I met him his heart was as big as our National Guard family," National Guard Staff Sgt. Ruben Martinez-Ortiz, who recruited Mensah in 2016, wrote on an Army website.
The fire took the lives of eight adults and five children, including 27-year-old Holt Francis, who was critically injured and died Thursday. Francis' wife, 19-year-old niece and two daughters, ages 2 and 7, also died.