NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Retirement just got a lot easier for one of New York’s bravest who was a first responder on Sept. 11, 2001.

As CBS2’s Cindy Hsu reported, Carmelo Mercado just hit the jackpot – winning millions of dollars in a scratch-off lottery game.

The retired city firefighter and 63-year-old grandfather won the top $5 million prize.

Yolanda Vega presented Mercado with an over-sized prize check Thursday.

“I thought about Jackie Gleason – homina, homina, homina — that’s a lot of money,” Mercado said.

Mercado won the prize on a Cash X100 New York Lottery scratch-off ticket that he bought in Sunnyside, Queens.

“I said. ‘Holy mackerel, that looks like $5 million — you know, my mind went blank,” he said. “I was in shock.”

But inside his heart, he said he was thinking, “freedom, financial freedom.”

Mercado now lives in Harriman, Orange County with his family, but is originally from Queens. The former member of FDNY Battalion 49 was forced to retire in 2004, after 27 years, due to 9/11-related ailments.

“The lung doctor at the fire department told me, you know, he was going to push me out,” Mercado said. “He said: ‘Listen, your breathing is not good. You lost a lot of oxygen.’”

Mercado said he didn’t want to drop in front of the men trying to fight a fire, and said he started playing the lottery years ago when he was on the job.

“Most firemen play the lottery,” Mercado said. “It’s just a part of the culture. You want to be in it to win it.”

While the jackpot is $5 million, Mercado will receive a lump sum after taxes of $3,309,000. He has four children, including a 10-year-old daughter, whose reaction he described.

“Well, my daughter asked me, ‘Does that mean I can get one American Girl doll?’ So I told her: ‘How about 10? We’ll get 10.’”

There are also big plans for later this summer.

“I usually rent a house in August, take my daughter to Disney World every year for the last eight years,” Mercado said. “This year, I might buy something down there permanently.”

Mercado also said this holiday weekend, he may end up taking a cruise in the Caribbean.

Mercado said New York’s Bravest will always be his family, but he’s happy to join the lottery family.


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