A city fireman, who loved to teach fire safety, will be remembered in Ozone Park with last Friday’s renaming of PS 65 as The Raymond York Elementary School.
Before a room of dignitaries including former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, York’s family and friends participated in a ceremony to rename the school last week. The school is just behind Engine 285 on 98th Street, where the 20-year Fire Department veteran worked and which was recently also renamed in his honor.
York, 45, grew up in Howard Beach and lived in Ozone Park before moving to Valley Stream, Long Island the year before the World Trade Center attacks. He was working at the Fire Zone safety exhibit at Lincoln Center on the day of the attacks, where he was assigned after suffering a shoulder injury. Though he was off-duty, he rushed to the scene on the back of a news truck.
Members of the FDNY, York’s family, elected officials, PS 65 students, and community members remembered York as the consummate firefighter and family man. Joan York, Ray’s widow, and his father, Raymond York Sr., unveiled a sign reading “The Raymond York Elementary School.”
“This is what Ray was all about,” Joan said. “Ray would talk about this class and that class. I wondered who was more excited, the kids or Ray. He was a very special man. I couldn’t have asked for more from a husband, and as a father there was no one better.”
Giuliani recalled meeting York at the Fire Zone and being struck by his seemingly boundless energy as “Fireman Ray,” the character he created for the exhibit.
“Ray loved being a teacher. He loved the people who came into the Fire Zone. I saw him and what he could do with people. This is just one way we can recognize Ray. He lost his life, but he lost his life doing what he pledged to do,” Giuliani said.
Jim DeDomenico, the deputy chief of the Fire Department’s 13th Division, said the renaming of the school would “forever honor and memorialize who Ray York was. Kids ask questions like who, what, and why. Hopefully, they’ll ask who Ray York was, and they’ll say he was a firefighter and hero who lost his life for this city. And hopefully the final question is, ‘How can I be like Ray York?’”
Captain Don Spiegel, of Ladder 142 that operates out of Engine 285, emphasized York’s local ties. “Ray was a neighborhood guy. He grew up here, he lived here, and he worked here.”
Borough President Helen Marshall said York “will always be etched in our minds for what he did to save this city from catastrophe. For the children of PS 65, since 9/11, you’ve learned what ‘hero’ really means: when they see danger, instead of running away, they run toward it.”
The ceremony was as much about celebrating York’s life as it was about memorializing it. Four kindergarten classes came out wearing Engine 285 helmets made out of construction paper and sang a fireman’s song and Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” while waving American flags.
They were followed by three fourth-grade classes, dressed in pink, who sang Billy Joel’s “New York State Of Mind” followed by the classic “New York, New York,” which the boisterous firefighter amended to “Ray York, Ray York” when he sang it. Five of the fourth graders even did a little chorus line as the crowd roared its approval.
Iris Nelson, principal of the school, said naming PS 65 after York was perfect for the school and for the community. “Ever since I arrived here, I knew we needed a name. We formed committee after committee. Then someone suggested Ray. Ray loved children, and children loved Ray. Our building, and the community within it, will memorialize Ray.”
Nelson read a letter from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who hoped the renaming would bring York’s family “comfort and strength.”
PS 65 is the second school in the borough to be renamed in honor of victims of the World Trade Center attacks, Marshall said. MS 137 in Ozone Park, which opened last year, is named “America’s School of Heroes.”