The April 14 FDNY Medal Day ceremony, like some heroic rescues it has honored in the past, was a skillful rooftop improvisation required by conditions—in this case, a pandemic.
The event, which is usually held in front of City Hall in June, was moved to the roof of Pier 17, a concert and dining venue at the South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan, providing the honorees and their families a panoramic view that included the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge.
'Shows City's Back'
Last year's ceremony was postponed due to the coronavirus-linked state of emergency. For its make-up date, medal winners could invite just two family members and the crowd was kept to around 300, a fraction of its usual audience when the crowd stretches beyond City Hall Plaza and into the adjoining park.
Attendees had to have been vaccinated or tested negative for COVID.
Mayor de Blasio told the gathering, "We're here in this incredible site, and this doesn't look like a typical Medal Day, but, to me, it looks like something very powerful. It means we're coming back. We are so proud to say Medal Day is back and New York City is back."
With American flags fluttering behind him, he asked, "But what does it mean? For all of us, it means that we honor people who do something beyond the imagination that most of us have of what a single human being could do. And Medal Day reminds us that you never stopped. You were hit with a global pandemic, but you never, ever stopped. All of you kept going, saving lives, protecting people, and it was one of the things that held the city together."
"Now, this Medal Day is certainly unique," Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. "We're on a rooftop, not the steps of City Hall. It's been delayed nearly a year, and it's taking place during a pandemic that has taxed every member of our department. We have lost 14 members of our department to this terrible virus."
'Going Above and Beyond'
He continued, "You train, you work hard, you show up, and you fight to accomplish the department's lifesaving mission. And you've done it all during this year when COVID-19 has been all-consuming and on your mind on every call. That's the mark of the FDNY, always going above and beyond to save lives."
More than 40 medals were handed out for responses executed by individuals and units at the end of 2018 through 2019 based on the decisions of the department's Medal Board which consists of Mr. Nigro, Chief of Department John Sudnick, Chief of Fire Operations Thomas J. Richardson, and Emergency Medical Service Chief Lillian A. Bonsignore.
Firefighter John H. McCoy of Squad Company 288 was the first recipient of the Chief of Department Peter J. Ganci Jr. Medal and NYS Honorary Fire Chiefs Association Medal, named for the highest-ranking uniformed officer to die on 9/11. "In 2019, Firefighter McCoy performed a daring rescue of a man from a warehouse fire in Queens just as portions of the building began to collapse due to explosions," his citation stated.
In addition to Firefighters and fire officers and Emergency Medical Technicians and EMS officers, recipients included Fire Marshals.
Firefighter Daniel R. Foley, of Company 3 was the only posthumous honoree, getting the Emerald Society Medal for rescuing two young children from a Bronx fire in February 2019.
WTC Cancer Victim
Twelves months later, he died from a World Trade Center-linked cancer he contracted as a result of his time at Ground Zero, where his brother, Firefighter Thomas Foley, also of Rescue Company 3, was one of 343 FDNY members killed on 9/11.
Daniel Foley's wife, Carrie Foley, and their five children—Erin, Kiera, Brianne, Kendall, and Thomas—were on hand to receive the medal.
Talking to reporters afterward, Ms. Foley said the event was "bittersweet, a little bit overwhelming but also a little bit inspiring."
"He was actually diagnosed [with cancer] four days after the rescue that he just received a medal for today," she said, adding that despite the diagnosis her husband had just "wanted to go back to work."
The FDNY plans to conduct another Medal Day later this year honoring the outstanding rescues of 2020.
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