FDNY valor medal renamed after highest-ranking member killed on 9/11
The former James Gordon Bennett Medal was renamed to honor fallen Chief of Department Peter J. Ganci Jr. and to reject the racist views of its previous namesake, officials said
By Laura French
NEW YORK — The FDNY has changed the name of its top valor award to honor the highest-ranking department member killed on 9/11, and to denounce the racist beliefs of its previous namesake.
The former James Gordon Bennett Medal, which was first established in 1869, will now be permanently renamed the Chief of Department Peter J. Ganci, Jr. Medal, the FDNY announced this week.
"The James Gordon Bennett Medal was endowed by its namesake to honor Firefighters who saved his home. However, Bennett also held deeply racist beliefs and used his newspaper to repeatedly express hateful views in full support of slavery," FDNY Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said in a statement. "These views have no place in any society, and I believe we must cease including this individual's name, and therefore his legacy, in our annual celebration."
Ganci was a 33-year veteran of the department and received numerous honors for bravery throughout his career. He was killed when the north tower collapsed after directing the rescue of thousands of people from the World Trade Center. His two sons are also FDNY firefighters.
"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," Nigro stated. "It should be named for a legendary Chief who is still revered by all of us so many years after his death."
Nigro added that the change was not intended to erase history and does not discredit the valor of the 152 members who have received the medal since it was established, but "meant to help us create a better present and future for our FDNY, one we can all be proud of."
"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 stated. "That award should be named for the Chief who was leading our troops on our darkest day, a great man who gave his life overseeing the greatest rescue operation in FDNY history."
The Chief of Department Peter J. Ganci, Jr. Medal will be awarded for the first time at the FDNY Medal Day ceremony later this year.