Medal Was Originally Named For James Gordon Bennett, Who Expressed 'Full Support Of Slavery' In N.Y. Herald

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The FDNY is changing the name of the department’s top medal awarded for bravery in the line of duty.

It will now honor a respected chief who lost his life on 9/11, CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez reported Wednesday.

For 150 years, the “James Gordon Bennett” medal was the highest honor for bravery awarded to a firefighter in the city.

But times have changed.

The medal is now named the “Peter J. Ganci Jr. Medal.”

“When we award the highest medal for bravery this year it will be a medal named for a hero given to a hero. Chief of Department Peter J. Ganci Jr., who died on 911,” FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.

Bennett was the publisher of the New York Herald, who “held deeply racist beliefs and used his newspaper to repeatedly express hateful views in full support of slavery,” Nigro wrote on Facebook.

Nigro told Sanchez the FDNY’s decision to drop the name in no way erases the history of brave firefighters who have earned the top honor.

“Traditions are great, but sometimes it’s good to start a new tradition. And I can’t think of a better person to start with than Pete Ganci,” said Thomas Von Essen, a former commissioner of the FDNY.

Von Essen appointed Ganci to Chief of Department. He and Nigro vividly recall the chief’s selflessness at ground zero 19 years ago, ordering firefighters to retreat after the South Tower crumbled to the ground.

“He didn’t have to be there. He didn’t have to make that sacrifice. He knew what he was doing. He knew the risk he was taking,” Von Essen said.

Chief Ganci narrowly survived the South Tower collapse, but when the North Tower collapsed he was killed by falling debris. His body was found buried under rubble.

“And I spoke to him moments before the collapse and never saw him again. So, it’ll be an honor to give a medal out in his name,” Nigro said.

Ganci, a beloved family man and friend, left behind quite a legacy. His two sons followed in his firefighting footsteps. One is now a chief; the other a captain.

“He was just the kind of person that all the guys respected. They felt they would follow him anywhere,” Von Essen said.

And the now the bravest of the brave who serve with the heroic spirit of Chief Ganci will be honored with the medal that carries his likeness and name.

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