Washington DC – The late Raymond Downey, deputy chief of the Fire Department of New York, was the recipient of the Congressional Fire Services Institute 2002 Mason Lankford Fire Service Leadership Award. Congressman Kurt Weldon, founder of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, presented the award to Downey’s wife, Rosalie, and children, Ray, Joe, Chuck, Kathy Ugalde, and Marie Tortorici, at the 14th annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner at the Washington Hilton on April 18.
Downey, a 39-year veteran of FDNY, was killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center. He significantly affected national fire service policies and programs. He was a member of the Gilmore Commission, a presidential committee that evaluated domestic response capabilities for terrorist attacks involving weapons of mass destruction. He was the team leader for the New York City Urban Search and Rescue team and a representative for all 28 FEMA USAR teams.
President Bush told the audience: “Those who knew [Ray Downey] would tell you that he was the bravest of the brave, a fireman’s fireman. And, today, I proudly sign legislation designating a post office in Deer Park, New York, as the Raymond M. Downey Post Office Building.”
“Chief Downey leaves behind a legacy that few will ever replicate,” said Weldon. “He was a pioneer, a man of great vision who was responsible for much of the progress that has been achieved within the fire service in the area of disaster preparedness.”
Joe Downey, a captain in the FDNY, gave the acceptance address on behalf of his family. His comments follow:
On behalf of my mom, my brothers, and my sisters, we thank you for having us here tonight. President Bush, thank you for being here with us.
It is truly a privilege for us to accept The Mason Lankford Fire Service Leadership Award in honor of my dad, Deputy Chief Raymond Downey. I would like to thank James A. Burns, New York State Fire Administrator, and Dan Cafferty, New York State Deputy Fire Administrator for nominating my father for this most prestigious award. I would also like to thank Congressman Sherwood Boehlert of New York and Congressman Kurt Weldon of Pennsylvania for their strong letters of support. Finally, I would like to thank the selection committee, comprised of the Congressional Fire Services Institute Board of Directors along with the National Advisory Committee Chairman Dennis Compton, for choosing my father.
None of us ever dreamed his life would end so suddenly and tragically as it did on September 11. Just one week following that date, my father would have celebrated his 64th birthday. His life was dedicated to his family and the fire service. My father was eligible for retirement 19 years ago but chose to continue working in the career he loved so much. He once said the Fire Department would have to kick him out before he would be ready to retire.
Following the tragedy on September 11, my family and I received many cards and letters from family and friends, as well as people we have never met. Many of these letters expressed how Ray Downey had touched their lives, either through his words of encouragement, a class he had taught, or just a friendly greeting; he had an impact on their lives in some way.
Throughout his life, and especially on September 11, he was willing to lead by example and perform an act of tremendous courage. After the South Tower came down, without hesitation my father returned to the collapse area to help as many people as possible. Upon speaking with many of the firefighters that were lucky enough to survive the collapse of the Twin Towers, I have been told of how Chief Downey had saved their life and for that they are forever grateful.
We stand here before you with broken hearts because of that day. However, you help to ease our pain in ways like this by recognizing Ray Downey with this award. His life was an inspiration to many. His accomplishments are a true testament to his character. We continue to be amazed and proud to see how many lives he has touched within this country and throughout the world.
My dad will always be remembered as a wonderful husband, a supportive father, an outstanding Poppy, a great friend, and a truly dedicated firefighter.
Thank You, CFSI, Motorola, and all of you who continue to support the fire service for making this a most memorable evening for the Downey family.
The late Mason Lankford was a fire marshal from Denton, Texas. He played a pivotal role in the development of the Congressional Fire Services Institute and the Congressional Fire Services Caucus. The award recognizes leadership in advancing fire service issues at all levels of government.
In his comments, President Bush noted that the “men and women who answer America’s alarms” have “one of the highest callings in our country, and one of the hardest. Your neighborhoods depend on you, and so does your country. And you’ve never let us down.”
In addition to President Bush and Weldon, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Joe Allbaugh, Senator Joseph Biden, and a bipartisan group of members from the Congressional Fire Services Caucus welcomed the more than 2,000 fire and emergency service personnel present.
Tribute was paid also to other individuals and organizations from New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania who served major roles in the response to the terrorist attacks. “This year’s event is a humbling reminder of the incredible sacrifice that all of our domestic defenders face on a daily basis,” noted Weldon.
During a special reception prior to the Fire and Emergency Services Dinner, Weldon and Israel’s Public Security Minister Dr. Uzi Landau addressed honored guests and American first responders on the challenges they face and the critical role that they play in responding to terrorist attacks.
The bipartisan Congressional Fire Services Caucus, founded by Weldon in 1987, is the largest caucus on Capitol Hill with more than 320 members. Senator Paul Sarbanes, of Maryland, is Caucus chairman during this session of Congress.