Top Fire Department Official Mourned at Memorial, 12/15/01

NEW YORK -- Thousands of firefighters gathered Saturday at a memorial for their fallen colleague Ray Downey, one of three top Fire Department officials lost in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

Downey, chief of special operations command, was a firefighter for nearly 40 years and was the city's most decorated firefighter at age 63.

His memorial service in Deer Park, on Long Island, drew more mourners than other Fire Department memorials in recent weeks. A bagpipe procession down the street was followed by a fire truck that carried a large flower arrangement made to resemble an American flag, with Downey's helmet on top.

Large American flags hung from fire ladders outside the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church, where Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani were among the mourners. After the service, a group of children released two bouquets of white balloons into the air.

Downey was an expert on urban search-and-rescue, and led a team of New York City firefighters who responded to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. It was his idea to use cables to anchor a giant slab that was dangling from a roof of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, endangering rescuers.

Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating has said Downey, an expert in what firefighters call "collapse rescue," had become a true friend.

Keating said that during his Oklahoma City stay, Downey was more than a helping hand, but also an "inspiration of unrivaled expertise. He was also a man whose beaming smile lightened some dark hours."