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When she was just four years old, Taylor had a hairsbreadth escape when her family’s apartment in New York City’s SoHo caught fire. After rescuing Taylor’s mother from the blaze, firefighter Eugene Pugliese rushed back into the building when the frantic mother informed him that her little girl was still inside. Finding young Deidre unconscious in the smoke-filled apartment, Pugliese carried her to safety and brought her around via mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Following the rescue, in addition to the mother’s thanks, the doughty firefighter received the Walter Scott Medal for Valor… and became a hero to the toddler he saved.
Taylor explains, “The fire obviously shaped the rest of my life. I always knew I was given a second chance at life. The copy of the Daily News was in my keepsake binder since I was a young child. I’ve always had a copy of the cover.”
She saved the newspaper account of the fire and rescue and made many attempts to locate her childhood hero without success. While working a shift at NYU Langone Hospital during the coronavirus outbreak, though, Taylor met some firefighters who had brought pizza for her and her co-workers. As they chatted over their slices, she told them that she owed her life to one of their own. After Taylor informed them that her savior had worked with Ladder 20 in Manhattan, a firefighter phoned the station captain, who—despite the passage of decades—still had Pugliese on speed-dial.
Owing to the pandemic, Taylor and the 75-year old retiree were unable to meet in person and share an embrace. “The last thing I’d want to do is expose him,” Taylor told the Daily News. Nonetheless, the two had a satisfying and emotional reunion over the phone and video calls. Pugliese told CNN, “The two of us just sat there crying on the phone. She turned out to be a remarkable woman with a magnificent life.” Taylor’s hero was profoundly gratified by the course of the life he helped to save long ago, and declared, “You turned out to be a wonderful young woman. You’re a hero, too.”