Honoring a fallen hero
By MELISSA PROULX Sentinel Staff
Keene firefighters help student remember grandfatherâ€™s sacrifice
At 8:46 a.m. on Friday, Joseph J. â€œJ.J.â€ Downey lined up in front of the Keene Fire Department with more than a dozen local firefighters for a moment of silence. Over the loudspeaker from the Southwestern N.H. District Fire Mutual Aid station across the street came a solemn message. â€œMay we never forget.â€
The time marked the moment the first plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Downey, now a freshman at Keene State College, was 4 years old then, but still remembers the events of that morning vividly.
He remembers sitting in front of the television with his father, Joseph, who seemed distressed. He remembers being brought to his neighborsâ€™ house across the street from their Long Island home as Joseph, then a captain at the New York Fire Department, went to the scene to help out.
Downeyâ€™s grandfather, Raymond, a deputy chief for the same department, was already there. At the time, Raymond had been commanding rescue units for a few years; in 1995, Raymond Downey oversaw the searchand- rescue operations for the Oklahoma City bombing.
A seasoned veteran in the department, Raymond was well loved by the rest of the firefighters there, Downey said â€œThey called him â€˜God.â€™ â€œ His grandfather was selfless and brave right up until the moment he died, Downey said. Raymond had been helping an injured man in the Marriott World Trade Hotel near the two towers. The building had already been hit by debris when the South Tower collapsed and Raymond realized it wouldnâ€™t be long before the North Tower did as well, crushing the hotel. Other firefighters at the scene told family members Raymond told them to run, to get out while they could, Downey said.
Raymond stayed behind and is believed to have still been in the building when the second tower collapsed. His body was found, amid the rubble and debris, nearly a year later.
Friday, the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, marked the first time Downey would not be home with his family to commemorate the day.
â€œYesterday, it kind of hit me,â€ Downey said.
Downey called his father, who is now a battalion chief for FDNY, to talk about how upset he was, and he said he could tell his dad was worried about him being so far away from his family on the emotional day. â€œI could hear it in his voice,â€ Downey said.
So late Thursday night, he and his father connected with Lt. Thomas Redin of Southwestern N.H. District Fire Mutual Aid and Chief Mark F. Howard of the Keene Fire Department to see if he could come down to the station.
â€œ(My dad) knew they would take care of me, that they would treat me like one of them,â€ Downey said.
Within an hour, the two departments coordinated a plan to pick Downey up from his dorm Friday morning and bring him to the fire station, where he was more than welcome to spend the entire day, Howard said.
â€œItâ€™s an honor to have him here with us.â€
Howard and Redin gave the New York native a tour of both the fire station and dispatch center. Howard said he also invited Downey to have lunch at the station.
This, according to those who attended the ceremony, represents the overwhelming support firefighters give each other, regardless of what department they belong to.
â€œA lot of us knew a lot of people from New York,â€ Keene Fire Lt. David Gaillardetz said.
â€œIt hits home with everyone.â€
Many members of the department attended funerals for those lost on Sept. 11 to pay their respects, even if they didnâ€™t know them, Howard said.
â€œI canâ€™t fathom how families continue to endure that tragedy.â€
Downey said heâ€™s grateful for the support heâ€™s gotten from fire departments in Keene and New York. He, too, plans to become a firefighter after he graduates from college, to carry on his familyâ€™s legacy.
â€œThereâ€™s no better job than this.â€
Until then, he will always have the memory of his grandfather and the others who have sacrificed their lives with him. On his right calf, Downey has a claw-like tattoo with an American flag peeking through the inked-on rips.
â€œMy love for my country is under my skin every day.â€
Melissa Proulx can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1409, or mproulx@ keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @ MProulxKS.
â€œI CANâ€™T FATHOM HOW FAMILIES CONTINUE TO ENDURE THAT TRAGEDY.â€
â€” KEENE FIRE CHIEF MARK F. HOWARD
A moment of silence is held in front of the Keene fire station at 8:46 a.m. Friday to mark the moment the first plane flew into the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. The ceremony began with by a tone and announcement transmitted by a dispatcher at Southwestern N.H. Fire Mutual Aid. Joining the firefighters was Joseph J. â€œJ.J.â€ Downey, who lost his grandfather, a seasoned New York firefighter, in the blast. Above, Downey sports a tattoo of an American flag. â€œMy love for my country is under my skin every day,â€ he says.
Photos by BILL GNADE / Sentinel Staff
Below Photos by Rachel Bartlett