He Was Always Doing the Right Thing, When No One Was Looking

Do the right thing, even when no one is looking.

That was the “mantra” or “theme” of one of the most inspirational men I, and so many others, ever met. Ever.

FDNY Firefighter Ray Pfeifer died in the ine of duty Sunday morning May 28, 2017. Ray died in the line of duty from the injuries, illness, sickness and disease he, like so many others, contracted while operating on 9/11 at the World Trade Center.

FirefighterNation: FDNY Firefighter, Voice for 9/11 Healthcare, Dies

Since 2009, cancer had taken his kidney, leg and a bunch of other physical stuff-but it never touched his heart. Those of you who knew Ray know what I am talking about. Those of you who don’t will just should trust us-and I would never lie to you. His heart couldn’t be touched by cancer. 

You DO know Ray… he was “that” FDNY Firefighter in the wheel chair, who along with numerous FDNY and NYPD troops and supporters, including famous guy Jon Stewart, made more than 14 trips to Washington D.C. to convince reluctant lawmakers to expand benefits for ailing firefighters, police officers, EMT’s and others who served-and got sick from 9/11exposure. He even embarrassed my very own Senator into committing to support Zadroga by blocking the US Capitol “dweller’s” office doorway with his wheelchair until our “public servant” would commit. Ray would not leave without a commitment…but it wasn’t about him.

I was very lucky to have known Ray over the years as a well-known and beloved Firefighter at FDNY Engine 40. Ray also served as a very active volunteer Firefighter (and former Captain) with the East Meadow (Nassau County, Long Island, NY) Fire Department, Engine Company 3. 

We unintentionally reignited our friendship right after he was diagnosed and was assigned to work at the FDNY Counter-Terrorism and Emergency Preparedness unit. I hadn’t seen Ray in a while and you wouldn’t have known he was sick. I don’t mean by looking at him-I mean by his attitude. He was happy, laughing, breaking balls and just glad to be kicking after his grim diagnosis. It was truly remarkable – I was blown away – as this man had pretty much been handed the worst news ever-and he was gung ho to be at work and ready to fight whatever he had to up until his last breath. While smiling. 

And fight he did. I mean – like those closest to him described that they had never seen anyone fight like this. There was the physical beating he took from the disease and the treatments. There were the mental, emotional and psychological beatings, but you would NEVER know it. His life’s mission…before and after his diagnosis was to simply do good. And good he did. For example,

A few months ago, HE hosted a fundraiser to buy a beautiful new transport van for the FDNY Family Transport. They raised something like $60,000.00 that day. BAM. DONE. 

Done for others.

The man was literally working until his last breath–and his focus was on others. We are posting photos of the van because it’s a “ya gotta see this” photo. There are dozens of “Ray Does Good” stories that you will read about or hear in the coming days. The van story is just one example-and one he would be embarrassed about me sharing. He genuinely was one of THOSE not so common strong and determined people. No matter what.

I received a call on the 15th of this month that Ray had been moved to a hospice unit in Long Island and time was very short. His friend and brother FF Jimmy D (from FDNY and EMFD) called and Ray pranked me on the phone, making me think it was the hospice administrator determining if I could come visit or not. Seriously. I was worried about the intent of the phone call and its Ray messing with me. He did what he did best-making others benefit from him being here on earth. 

Teri and I could be with him, some of his friends and family on May 18th. When asked how the visit went, I will tell you what I told a few friends…”it was almost spiritual…we laughed…busted chops…told a few stories…helped him hide the smell of a little “medicinal”…er..uh…”beverage” with TicTacs…we hugged…kissed…a few “we’ll see ya around”. And there was no sadness…I’m not sure he would allow it or whatever …but it was something else. Maybe, according to Ray, there was no time for sadness. 

Clearly when we left we could see the heartache and heartbreak of his closest family and friends…but when in the room, you might as well have been at his firehouse kitchen shooting the bull. But when we left our hearts were full with every emotion pinging on high. 

Ray died in the line of duty this morning. He died right when our and mutual aid firefighters were picking up from a 3rd alarm commercial building fire in the heart of our historical district. I’m not sure there is any connection with Ray in that but I promise you this, it was the kind of fire Ray would have loved to fight. He was a 100% Firefighter. Day and night, he was always a firefighter….one of THOSE guys. Always wearing FD “colors”…always wanting to know the latest…always wanting to train,,,always listening to the radio…and he even owned his own rig. One of THOSE Firefighters.

This story is longer than I usually write so odds are I already lost many of you about five sentences into this story. But hopefully not. Hopefully I gave you a quick snapshot about who Ray was and the extraordinary impact this man had on others. 

I’ll end for now with this comment from Ray, one that he made last year when he received the key to NY City from the Mayor:

“I am a lucky man,” he said. “No matter what happens, I had 14 more years than the people who died that day.”

Ray lived every moment, up until his last breath this morning, with the philosophy and attitude to do the right thing, even when no one is looking. 


Rest in Peace Firefighter Ray Pfeifer