HOMESTEAD (KDKA) — The fire, back in January, broke out in the middle of the night right in the heart of Homestead.

Eventually, five buildings were involved, and in one of them, people needed to be rescued. Now, the community is honoring the men who saved lives.

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The fire was in Homestead’s Eighth Avenue business district.

The first responders discovered there were people trapped on the second and third floors of one building.

“It was so bad inside our building, and I mean, I was so afraid,” said Renee Gudukas.

For the rescuers, there was no climbing the stairs. They tried, but smoke, flames and intense heat pushed them back.

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Working together, police and firefighters from Homestead, West Homestead and Munhall deployed ladders and brought two people to safety.

“I can’t tell you how wonderful the firefighters are,” said Homestead Mayor Betty Esper.

Maybe she couldn’t, but Esper tried to, describing the combined, selfless efforts of her town’s heroes and those of Homestead’s Steel Valley neighbors.

“If I wanted to, I could cry,” she said. “But I won’t.”

Esper presented awards for bravery and lifesaving efforts to Homestead Fire Chief Jim Barca and Deputy Chief Ron Kalupson, as well as to Homestead firefighters Justin Galvin, Tyler Magyar and Carl Cordero, Jr. From Homestead police, awards for officers James Wintruba and Patrick Swindell. And from West Homestead, police Officer James Caterino was honored; and from Munhall, Officer David Smoley.

Police arrested a tenant of one of the buildings that burned, Edward McDonald, for starting the fire. They say he admitted doing so. His legal case is on hold while he gets psychiatric care.

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