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Retired Services and Pay (MMSR-6)

Marine first responders facility named after well-known New York firefighter, former Marine

By Cpl. Beth Zimmerman & Sgt. Christopher Reed | | October 29, 2004

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"I went with Ray to where the mayor stood watching the rescuers dig through the rubble.  Unflappable and stone faced as always, Ray took one look and shook his head.  The scene was much too disorganized.  He marched out and ordered everyone off the pile.  Then he quizzed the chiefs, made quick calculations of velocity, distance, and timing, and determined where the missing men were most likely to be.  'Start digging right there,' he told the troops." 

Thomas Von Essen's passage from his book, "Strong of Heart: Life and Death in the Fire Department of New York," described FDNY Deputy Chief Raymond M. Downey, Sr.   "It was hard not to be inspired by the way Ray could stride coolly into the middle of a chaotic scene and instantly create order and discipline."

Downey, a decorated firefighter and a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, died during his battalion's recovery efforts at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  Marines, family and friends honored his legacy by dedicating a building in the former Marine's honor in Stump Neck, Md., last week.  Marines from the Chemical Biological Incident Response Force, Indian Head, Md., renamed their training facility Raymond M. Downey Sr. Responder Training Facility during a dedication ceremony October 22.  

A 39-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department, Downey was known nationally for his expertise in search-and-rescue missions.  He led recovery efforts after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and after the World Trade Center bombing in 1993.  Even the United States Congress respected Downey as an expert in his field.

"The federal government needs to provide assistance and funding for training, detection equipment, personal protective equipment and mass decontamination capabilities," Downey said in front of Congress years before the 2001 terrorist attacks.  "It is the first responder that will be facing...weapons of mass destruction," he said.  "They are the ones that need the funding and assistance the federal government can provide."

According to New York Newsday, Downey believed in 1997 that terrorist attacks could occur at any time.  The paper reported on Downey teaching his recovery techniques to Marines that same year. 

"CBIRF has a personal relationship with Chief Downey," said Col. Dwight E. Trafton, Commanding Officer, CBIRF.  "What CBIRF is today has a lot to do with what Chief Downey did for us," said Trafton. 

According to the citation that accompanied the Distinguished Public Service Award the Navy posthumously awarded Downey, he directly enhanced the operational readiness of CBIRF.  Downey initiated training between the CBIRF Marines and firefighters at the FDNY Academy, Randall's Island, N.Y.  Marines first trained at the academy in 1998.  They have continued training at the academy since Downey's death in 2001.  

"There is a growing relationship between what we do as Marines at the federal level and what first responders do at the local level in dealing with the issue of terrorism," said Trafton.  "Continuing the fight against terrorism will take all of us working together."

Just as Downey's focus on first responders influenced the Marine Corps, Downey's time in the Corps influenced the rest of his life.  He enlisted in the Corps in 1956, and spent the majority of his four-year enlistment with 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

"The Marine Corps molded him and his attitudes about life, family and his job," said Battalion Chief Joseph Downey, the eldest son of the late Deputy Chief.  His family remembers him running in his red FDNY sweatshirt and Marine sweatpants through his Deer Park neighborhood on New York's Long Island.  Even at the age of 63, Downey ran five miles every morning.

"He always had that Marine attitude -that tough exterior," said Downey's son Ray Downey, Jr.  The Downeys believed that attitude prevailed on September 11th.

"When the south tower went down, there (were) a lot of Maydays.  He survived," said another son, FDNY Lt. Chuck Downey.  "A lot of the top brass did...guys with 30-plus years," he said.  "They went back in.  There were two young firemen," he added, "he told them, not in the nicest language, to get out of there."

Three years after he died in the line of duty, with the Corps' first responders' training facility renamed in his honor, Downey's legacy continues.
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