Days before the U.S. commemorates the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the New York City Fire Department said it is renaming its most prestigious firefighting medal because of the “deeply racist beliefs” of its namesake.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro announced this week that the James Gordon Bennett Medal will now bear the name of Chief Peter J. Ganci Jr., who was the department’s highest-ranking member to lose his life on 9/11.
“This change is not meant to erase history, and it does not discredit the actions, memory, or valor of the 152 members of our Department who have been awarded this medal since its inception,” Nigro said in a statement posted to social media Tuesday.
He added that the change is to usher in “a better present and future” for the nation’s fire department.
“Our highest honor for bravery to a Firefighter or Fire Officer should be named for an individual who swore an oath to serve others and who once crawled down a hallway like all our Firefighters have done to search for New Yorkers trapped by fire,” he said.
“It should be named for a legendary Chief who is still revered by all of us so many years after his death.”
The James Gordon Bennett Medal was established in 1869 after firefighters extinguished a blaze at its namesake’s summer home.
Bennett was publisher of The New York Herald, which featured writings endorsing the institution of slavery as well as other racist and anti-abolitionist views.
“This award for bravery should not be tied to someone who never served the FDNY, risked his life to save others, and who advocated for hate and slavery,” Nigro said.
Typically, the FDNY holds its Medal Day ceremony on the first Wednesday in June. Officials said this year’s event has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic — and that when socially distanced ceremony does take place later this year, the Chief of Department Peter J. Ganci, Jr. Medal will be awarded for the first time.
The department also announced that its FDNY World Trade Center Memorial Wall now bears the names of 27 members who died from illness linked to their rescue and recovery work at the World Trade Center on 9/11.
The names were added to the memorial wall in a closed ceremony Wednesday afternoon.
“To date more than 226 FDNY members have died of World Trade Center related illnesses,” according to the department. “This year, due to the growing number of those who have died, and to ensure room to properly honor and remember their memories moving forward, the wall was expanded for the first time since its construction in 2011.”