Retired Oklahoma City Fire Department Chaplain Teddy Wilson’s first interaction with the New York City Fire Department was in OKC six years before September 11, 2001.
“Everybody that as far as I was concerned was on my site that didn’t have a chaplain, I covered them. If they broke down and I was on the site, that person is mine at that moment,” Wilson said.
That included the members of the New York City Search and Rescue Team and FDNY Deputy Chief Ray Downey.
“A man’s man. A firefighter’s firefighter,” Wilson remembered him.
“The day he left, we hugged, and I kissed him on the cheek,” Wilson said. “He pulled back, and he said, ‘Chaplain,’ shook his head says, ‘I can’t believe you did that.’ I said, ‘Hey, you’re family now buddy. I love you.’”
Six years after leaving Oklahoma City, Downey was one of 10 New York City firefighters who worked the Murrah Building to perish at Ground Zero.
“The local Salvation Army guy called me and said ‘Hey, would you help organize teams to go to New York City,’” Wilson said. “I pulled police and fire and some of their wives went with them that were on the peer support teams at the time.”
Wilson and Oklahoma City crews would spend more than two months in New York City.
“I would go up on the pile when they would call for a chaplain and would be standing on literally below is 3000-degree heat. Melted the bottom of my fire boots,” he said.
In addition to his pastoral mission, Wilson had a personal mission -- to find one of the sons of the firefighter's firefighter, his friend Ray Downey.
“I’m walking off of the site, and it’s dark and I’m walking up the street, and I noticed a firefighter walking with me, kind of next to me,” Wilson remembered. “He said, ‘Who are you looking for?’ I said it’s for Ray Downey’s family and I’m trying to find Joey -- and he looked at me and he said, ‘I’m Joey.’”
“I said, 'you’ve got to be kidding me.' He said, ‘No Ted, I’ve been looking for you too, because all of my guys kept telling me you were looking for me,’” Wilson said.
Wilson, now retired, looks back on his more than 30 years of service calling them a blessing.
“It’s cost me physically. It’s cost me in the long run emotionally. It’s cost me. But it’s one of those things that I don’t think I would do differently -- I know I wouldn’t,” he said.