FDNY: The Next Generation

Deputy Chief John Norman took over Ray Downey's command. CBS

No family suffered a greater loss on 9/11 than the family that is the New York City Fire Department. Firefighters rushed into the burning towers as everyone else rushed out ... and 343 of them lost their lives that day. Five years later, CBS News national correspondent Byron Pitts reports, those who were in charge of the recovery effort at ground zero are still recovering themselves.

New York City Deputy Fire Chief Ray Downey's memory echoes from ground zero to the street that now bears his name — near his family's home. Joe Downey and his brother Chuck are Ray's sons and members of the FDNY.

"At times it feels like the five years have gone very quickly, and other times, it feels like forever," says Joe, a battalion chief.

Ray Downey was chief of the FDNY's Special Operations Command, where he pioneered techniques for urban rescue and responding to terrorist attacks. He was so respected, so beloved, his men nicknamed him "god."

"I know it's impossible to be him," says Chuck Downey, also a battalion chief, "but I want to do things that he's going to look down upon and say, 'you know, I'm proud of my son doing that.'"

Including Ray Downey, Special Operations Command lost 95 men that day — totaling 1,600 years of experience.

"We were really decimated on Sept. 11," says Deputy Chief John Norman, who took over Downey's command. It's been a hard five years, he adds, "but we're seeing progress."

At the department's training academy, a new generation is learning to fight fires — and train to respond to the next terrorist attack.

"The New York City Fire Department gets it," says Norman. "We've seen that we're at war. We've seen the methods that can be used against us. We've seen the toll that it takes on us. They know that every time they go out the door, this could be the real thing."

It's a lesson that newcomers, or "probies," as they're called, learn at the training center's pull-up bar — supported by charred steel girders from the World Trade Center and emblazoned with 343, the number of firefighters who died at ground zero.

"Years from now," says Norman, "this is going to be here and you'll have kids who aren't even born today knowing that they're going to be part of the New York City Fire Department, and this is their legacy. This is there to remind them. And if it's taking everything you've got to get your chin up over that bar, well, that's what you're going to give. That's what it's going to take to get through this.

"I know those people (who lost their lives on 9/11)," he adds. "That's what their job was and what they went to do, and it was the last thing that they did. So that's what we do."

Chief Norman will do it for just two more days. Pitts reports that he'll turn in his retirement papers on Wednesday, after 27 years on the job. And on Monday, even as they grieved, Norman's firefighters went out on 50 calls.

  • John Kreiser

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