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Profile: Ray Downey

Ray Downey was a participant or observer in the following events:

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

Chief Ray Downey of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) firmly believes that a major terrorist attack in the United States is imminent. According to a book written by his nephew, in the months before 9/11, Downey has on his desk “all the reports he can get his hands on about the threat of terrorism.” This is because he “has become convinced that a major terrorist attack is coming and that very few people in New York, or the United States, are prepared for this eventuality.” [Downey, 2004, pp. 218-219]
Fire Chief Warns, 'We're Gonna Get Hit Bad' - Downey was in charge of rescue operations following the terrorist bombings of the World Trade Center in 1993 (see February 26, 1993), the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), and the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1996. [New York Times, 11/22/2001; Fire Engineering, 3/2002] Having witnessed the aftermath of these attacks, he now feels “certain that a big one [is] coming next.” Whenever a conversation turns to the subject of terrorism, he warns, “We’re gonna get hit bad.” Furthermore, the 1993 WTC bombing demonstrated to him that Islamic terrorists see New York as their prime target. Downey has discussed his concerns with his men and outlined various scenarios to them. He thinks the “big one” is most likely going to be an attack involving a chemical or dirty bomb in an urban environment. [Downey, 2004, pp. 224]
Chief Has Planned the Fire Department's Response to Terrorism - Downey is in charge of the FDNY’s renowned Special Operations Command (SOC). [New York Post, 12/16/2001; Fire Engineering, 3/2002] The SOC is an elite group of firefighters who respond to unique fire and emergency situations, and its members are trained to deal with catastrophes. [New York Daily News, 10/21/2001; Long Island Herald, 7/13/2007; Smithsonian, 8/31/2013] As head of the unit, Downey is responsible for planning the FDNY’s response to terrorist attacks. He has “worked out various scenarios for terrorist attacks—who would be the first, second, and third of his companies on scene; what would each unit do,” according to the book by his nephew. He has “studied floor plans of major landmarks, looked at aerial views of [New York], thought about traffic routes, bridges, and tunnels.” [Downey, 2004, pp. 222-223]
Chief Serves on a Government Commission on Terrorism - Downey is also a member of the Gilmore Commission, an advisory panel established in 1999 to assess America’s capabilities for responding to domestic terrorist incidents involving weapons of mass destruction. [New York Times, 11/22/2001; Fire Engineering, 3/2002] And in his spare time, he has traveled around the country, “preaching the need to prepare for terrorism,” according to Hal Bruno, chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. [Newsday, 9/13/2001]

Entity Tags: Hal Bruno, Ray Downey, New York City Fire Department

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In the lobby of the north WTC tower, just after the South Tower is hit, Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen speaks briefly to Fire Chief Ray Downey. According to Von Essen, Downey—who is a highly respected expert on building collapses—says to him, “You know, these buildings can collapse.” Von Essen later recalls, “He just said it in passing, not that these buildings will collapse in 40 minutes and we have to get everybody out of here, or not that they’ll collapse by tomorrow, or not that they necessarily will collapse at all. Just that they can collapse.” [Fink and Mathias, 2002, pp. 229; 9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004] But other firefighters do not appear to have shared this concern. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Fire Department command officers who are planning for operations inside the Twin Towers expect that there will “be localized collapse conditions on the damaged fire floors,” but do “not expect that there [will] be any massive collapse conditions or complete building collapse.” At the end of its three-year investigation of the WTC collapses, NIST will report, “No one interviewed indicated that they thought that the buildings would completely collapse.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 72 and 75-76] In fact, Deputy Fire Commissioner Lynn Tierney will meet up with Downey and others—including Von Essen—slightly later, on the south lawn of the WTC complex, where a new command center is set up. At that time, according to Tierney, Downey will only be concerned that the 360-foot antenna atop the North Tower will fall, and “No one ever thought the towers were going to come down.” [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/11/2006] However, shortly before the first tower comes down, EMT Richard Zarrillo will be asked to relay a message to some senior firefighters that the mayor’s Office of Emergency Management “says the buildings are going to collapse” (see (Before 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). And later in the day, Mayor Giuliani will recount that around the same time, he had been told “that the World Trade Center was going to collapse” (see (Before 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will state, “The best estimate of one senior [fire] chief, provided to the chief of the department sometime between 9:25 and 9:45, was that there might be a danger of collapse [of the South Tower] in a few hours, and therefore units probably should not ascend above floors in the sixties.” The Commission does not state, however, whether this fire chief was referring to a total building collapse or just a localized collapse. [9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004] Ray Downey is killed when the second tower collapses at 10:28 a.m. [New York Times, 9/9/2005]

Entity Tags: Lynn Tierney, New York City Fire Department, Ray Downey, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Thomas Von Essen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Fire Chief Ray Downey is on the corner of West Street and Vesey Street, where the chiefs in charge of the response at the WTC have gathered to survey the scene. [Downey, 2004, pp. 233] Downey is the head of the New York Fire Department’s Special Operations Command, where he has pioneered techniques for responding to terrorist attacks. [CBS News, 9/11/2006] Reportedly, he had felt certain that a big attack on American soil was due. Worst in his mind had been “a situation in which there was a secondary device timed to explode after rescuers had rushed to the scene” of a terrorist attack. As he now checks in with the fire chiefs who are trying to put together a response plan, he tells them “he is worried about secondary devices in the towers, explosive devices that could hurt the firemen.” [Downey, 2004, pp. 224 and 233] Shortly after the South Tower comes down, Downey will in fact say he thought bombs in the building had caused it to collapse (see Shortly After 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). [City of New York, 12/6/2001] He will be killed when the North Tower collapses at 10:28 a.m. [New York Times, 9/9/2005]

Entity Tags: Ray Downey

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ray Downey.Ray Downey. [Source: Unknown]When the WTC’s South Tower collapses, Father John Delendick—one of New York Fire Department’s chaplains—runs down a ramp to the garages below the nearby World Financial Center, to escape the dust cloud. He speaks there with Fire Chief Ray Downey, and asks him if the jet fuel from the plane had blown up, causing the collapse. [City of New York, 12/6/2001] Downey is in fact a renowned expert on building collapses. Robert Ingram, a battalion chief in the New York Fire Department later refers to him as “the premiere collapse expert in the country.” [US Congress. Senate. Committee on Commerce, 10/11/2001 pdf file] 9/11 Commissioner Timothy Roemer calls Downey a “very, very respected expert on building collapse.” [9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004] And Fire Chief Mike Antonucci, who is a best friend of Downey’s, says he “was probably the most knowledgeable person on building collapses there was. That was his [hobby], to study building collapses—what affected the engineering of buildings, how they [would] weaken and how he could respond and stay safe.” [Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, 9/7/2006] In response to Delendick’s question, Downey replies that, “at that point he thought there were bombs up there because [the collapse] was too even.” [City of New York, 12/6/2001] Earlier on, Downey told other fire chiefs responding at the WTC that he was worried about “explosive devices” in the Twin Towers “that could hurt the firemen” (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He is killed when the North Tower collapses at 10:28 a.m. [New York Times, 9/9/2005]

Entity Tags: Ray Downey, John Delendick

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Oklahoma City mayor Kirk Humphreys visits the site of the World Trade Center, destroyed in the 9/11 attacks, and tells reporters that he cannot help but compare the scene to the damage done almost seven years ago in the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), which resulted in the destruction of a federal building and cost the lives of 168 people. Humphreys is on a personal visit with his wife and teenaged daughter. They journey down into the bottom of the pit that once housed the World Trade Center. Humphreys gives some advice for New Yorkers coping with the trauma of the attacks, noting that while the two events have profound differences, the suffering and trauma of the survivors, and of the families and friends of those lost in the attacks, are similar. “The area of Ground Zero, 12 blocks or so, is about the size of our entire downtown,” Humphreys tells reporters. “I tell people that what happened on 9/11 would have wiped out something the size of downtown. But the World Trade Center was an attack on America, and so was Oklahoma City.… Ours was tough, but ours was a piece of cake compared to this one.” In many ways, he says, dealing with the emotional trauma suffered by Oklahoma citizens was the most difficult: “The physical is the easiest part, and right when you think it is over, you realize that you need to address those other needs.… On the morning of April 19, 1995, there were some people who woke up with their lives spinning out of control—and then the bomb went off. You are going to have many people struggling for a long time. More substance abuse. More divorce. More emotional burnout. More suicides.” Oklahoma City plans on opening an exhibit, “Shared Experience,” on April 19, the seven-year anniversary of the bombing. The exhibit will include tributes to the seven New York firefighters and two police officers who died on 9/11 and who helped in the 1995 rescue efforts. Deputy Chief Ray Downey, the leader of the special operations command who died while leading a team of firefighters into the South Tower, is credited with saving dozens of lives in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. When Downey died, he was wearing a Catholic rosary that had been given to him by Governor Frank Keating (R-OK). The others who rendered assistance in the 1995 blast, and who died on 9/11, are: New York Battalion Chief John J. Fanning; Captain Terence S. Hatton; Lieutenants Kevin C. Dowdell, Michael A. Esposito, and Peter C. Martin; Firefighter William D. Lake; Police Sergeant Michael S. Curtin; and Officer Thomas Langone. Humphreys says of the nine: “They were good men. They helped us in our time of need.” Humphreys was not mayor at the time of the bombing, but is credited with leading the rebuilding effort in Oklahoma City as well as reinvigorating the tourist trade. [New York Times, 3/25/2002]

Entity Tags: Kirk Humphreys, World Trade Center, Frank Keating, Kevin C. Dowdell, Thomas Langone, William D. Lake, Ray Downey, Michael A. Esposito, Michael S. Curtin, Peter C. Martin, John J. Fanning, Terence S. Hatton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, US Domestic Terrorism

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