Funeral held for soldier who died saving others in NYC fire

Emmanuel Mensah, 28, died in the Bronx fire, his father said.

CBS New York

NEW YORK -- A funeral was held Saturday in New York City for 28-year-old Emmanuel Mensah, whom the U.S. government honored by posthumously awarding him two military valor medals after he died rescuing some of more than a dozen people trapped in the deadliest fire in the city in quarter of a century.  Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, celebrated the funeral Mass for an Army National Guard soldier and native of Ghana. 

In December, Mensah was staying with a family on the first floor of the building when the fire broke out, CBS New York reports. He initally escaped the blaze, but he kept going back into the inferno to bring out a family that included four children.

"According to those who saw him, he came out about three times helping people out and then the fourth time he went back to help, he didn't come back," his uncle, Twun Bredu, said in December.

Among them mourners in attendance Saturday was Mensah's elderly neighbor, who spoke glowingly of him.

"Every time he'd come home from some place he'd knock on my door and say, 'are you okay?' and I'd go, 'yes, I'm okay," Margot Perkins told CBS New York. 

Mansah's funeral was at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Belmont.   

On Friday, the Army Private 1st Class was posthumously awarded two valor medals at a ceremony at Fordham University.

Fire officials say the blaze was started by a child playing with a gas stove

"The mother was not aware of it, was alerted by the young man screaming," said Daniel Nigro, commissioner for the New York City Fire Department. "She exited her apartment with her 2-year-old, and 3-year-old and left the door open." 

That was a fateful mistake, according to the commissioner. Like smoke up a chimney, the fire was sucked into the hallways, and the entire five-story building was engulfed within minutes.

Crisbel Martinez, 10, escaped with her brother.

"I got scared and freaked out because I thought I was going to fall off the fire escape, but I tried my best," Martinez said.

The victims range in age from one to 63.