Remembering 9/11: FDNY Chief Joe Downey Carries on His Father's Legacy

Peter Haskell
September 09, 2019 - 12:23 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- After 18 years, a New York City fire chief is at peace with the loss of his dad who died responding to the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

On that fateful day, Joe Downey raced to the rescue operations command hoping for word on his father, Ray, who was the deputy chief of the special operations command at the time.

He then headed downtown.

"I got on to West Street with a bunch of guys. We walked down West Street and Chief Caruthers, he was chief of special operations — my dad's boss — I walked into him. Then I said, 'Have you seen my father?' He was like, 'No, I don't know where he is, Joe.' At that point I realized it was trouble," Downey recalled. "In my heart probably thinking how did anybody survive this. But then again he was Ray Downey."

Ray's remains were identified that December. He was 63.

Ray Downey, a 39-year veteran of the FDNY, was a collapse expert and special ops legend not just in the city, but nationwide.

"They asked him to help start up the federal Urban Search and Rescue Program in 1998 and be on that committee and pretty much he was the godfather of that program," Downey said.

Now, Joe is a battalion chief in the same command as his father.

"I've been here 16 years now. So at first it was emotional. But now I look at it as the place I should be. This is where I should be working," Downey said, adding that now nearly two decades after the attacks, talk of his dad brings laughter not tears. "So he always lives within us. There is probably never an occasion where we're together that we don't talk about him."

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