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April 1997: New York Fire Chief Tells Firefighters that They Need to Prepare for Terrorist Attacks

Battalion Chief Ray Downey of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) warns senior firefighters about the need to prepare for terrorist attacks and says another attack in the United States is “going to happen.” He issues the warning in a speech he gives at the annual Fire Department Instructors Conference, a six-day event in Indianapolis, Indiana. [Fire Engineering, 7/1997; Fire Engineering, 9/1997; Fire Engineering, 3/1998]
Fire Chief Says Firefighters Have a 'Lot to Learn' about Terrorism - Downey says in his speech: “Terrorism has taken on a new light. It’s a new part of the fire service that we all had better prepare for.” He mentions the terrorist bombings of the World Trade Center in February 1993 (see February 26, 1993), the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April 1995 (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), and the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, in July 1996. He warns, “I stand up here to tell you, having been involved in [responding to] all three of those terrorist incidents personally, at the scene, that we have an awful lot to learn.”
Chief Says a Chemical or Biological Attack Is 'Going to Happen' - Downey describes a number of smaller-scale terrorist attacks or planned terrorist attacks that have occurred in the US in just the last six or eight months and then asks, “Is the fire service ready to handle these incidents?” He asks the firefighters attending his speech if they know about chemical agents such as “sarin” and “mustard gas” or biological agents such as “anthrax” and “botulism.” He asks if they think an attack involving one of these agents is “not possible.” He then cautions them to “[g]et with it” and says, “It’s not a matter of what, where, or who—but when” such an attack will occur. He concludes, “It’s going to happen—accept the fact.” [Fire Engineering, 9/1997]
Chief Helps Prepare His Department to Respond to Terrorism - Downey is a member of the FDNY’s Special Operations Command (SOC) and is put in charge of the unit sometime this year. [New York Times, 11/22/2001; Fire Engineering, 3/2002] The SOC is an elite group of firefighters who respond to unique fire and emergency situations. [Long Island Herald, 7/13/2007; Smithsonian, 8/31/2013] Its members are trained to deal with catastrophes. [New York Daily News, 10/21/2001] As head of the unit, Downey will be responsible for planning the FDNY’s response to terrorist attacks. [Downey, 2004, pp. 222] Fire Engineering magazine will comment in 2002, “Due in part to [Downey’s] diligence, FDNY is one of the best equipped and most prepared fire departments in terrorism response in the world.” [Fire Engineering, 3/2002] Downey will be killed when the WTC collapses on September 11, 2001. [New York Times, 11/22/2001]

Entity Tags: Ray Downey

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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