Ray Downey began his fire serviced career in 1962, after serving with the United States Marine Corps, following in the footsteps of his 2 older brothers. Chief Downey’s phenomenal 39-year career with the FDNY was built upon success after success and rescue after rescue.
After finishing probationary firefighter’s school, he was assigned to Ladder Company 35 in Lincoln Center area of New York City’s West Side. Looking for more action, he transfer to Ladder 4, “The Pride of Midtown,” and worked in Times Square before moving on to his next assignment as a firefighter in Rescue Company 2 in Brooklyn.
In 1972 he was promoted to lieutenant and assigned to Harlem. After a few months covering in various firehouses, he was assigned to Engine 58 the “Fire Factory”. For the next 5 years, he worked in Engine Company 58 and transferred across the floor to Ladder Company 26 for 2 years.
In July 1977 he was promoted to captain and reassigned to Brooklyn. He was detailed to the Division of Training. He than was selected by the fire commissioner to form and organize Squad Company 1, a fully equipped engine company that carried a full complement of Ladder Company tools. The Assignment included responding to all working fires in selected areas of Brooklyn.
Chief Downey was then put in charge of Special Operations Command, a team of specialists who aid regular firefighters with unique or highly critical situations, which include Hazardous Materials, Marine Units, Rescue Companies Squads. Downey was also promoted to Deputy Chief at the time.
In April 1995, Chief Downey spent 16 days at the ruins of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, serving as operations chief for the Urban Search and Rescue teams, which worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He was involved in the evacuation of thousands of workers in the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center.
Chief Downey was also a member of a national advisory commission on domestic response to terrorism.
Additionally, Chief Downey was a task force leader for the New York City Urban Search and Rescue Team as well as the National Disasters Team. He was also a team leader in response to Hurricanes Hugo, Andres, Fran, Marilyn and Opal, Chief of Rescue Operations at the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, all of which contributed to his being called “a charismatic national legend in rescue circles” and he was credited with creating the modern search-and-rescue system adopted by FEMA and fire departments worldwide while pioneering a national network of eight search and rescue teams under FEMA.
One of the most – if not the most decorated men in the Department, Chief Downey received five individual medals for valor and 16 unit citations.
Additionally, he was awarded the Administration Medal in 1995 for his efforts on the Bunker Gear Program and interim quartermaster system.
All of this led to Downey commanding rescue operations at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, where he was ultimately killed when the North Tower Collapsed.
It would take eight months after 9/11 for his remains to be identified through DNA testing before Chief Downey was then laid to rest on May 20, 2002.
Of the 343 firefighters lost on 9/11, Special Operations Command lost a total of 95 men with 1,600 years of experience that day.
Ray Downey’s life and career are commemorated each year with The Ray Downey Courage & Valor Award, which is presented to an extraordinarily courageous American firefighter at FDIC in Indianapolis.
Chief Ray Downey’s Fire Department accomplishments are legendary and monumental. Here are just some:
- He pioneered techniques for urban rescue and responding to terrorist attacks.
- Panel member of the presidential committee on terrorism known as the “Gilmore Commission,” which has been assessing domestic response capabilities for terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction
- Task force leader for the New York City Urban Search and Rescue Team, which responds to disasters both around the country and within New York State
- His team was recently selected by F.E.M.A. to be trained for weapons of mass destruction and will be on standby for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City
- Recipient of the “Crystal Apple Award” issued by Mayor Giuliani on July 23, 2001
- National Wrestling Hall of Fame (Medal of Courage, awarded in June, 2002)
- Author of the book The Rescue Company and a series of videos on collapse operations
Ray’s Book The Rescue Company offers guidelines and recommendations on how to start a rescue company, the equipment needed, and the operational planning that is necessary for company development. It also discusses Elevator Emergencies, Air Bag Use, Confined Space Rescues, Vehicle accidents and, Rope rescues. I highly recommended the book, even if you don’t have a rescue company. There are also many drills within the book that you can take back whether you are a big department or not.
Downey also created a DVD to go along with the book that addresses Building Construction, Collapse Causes and Types, and the Strategic Considerations of Structural Collapse. Again, I highly recommend it to go with the book.
Note: We would like to acknowledge that much of the information was taken from multiple sources in the form of books, articles, and pictures. HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE is where Information was taken.
Thanks for Reading,