In a somber announcement, the Fire Department of New York’s Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) has shared the heart-wrenching news of the passing of Firefighter Bob Beckwith at the age of 91. Beckwith, a revered figure in the firefighting community, became an emblem of hope and resilience in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.
Beckwith’s name became synonymous with the collective grief and unyielding spirit of New York City when he was photographed standing alongside then-President George W. Bush amid the rubble of Ground Zero. The image, capturing a moment of national solidarity, has since become an iconic representation of the tragedy and the indomitable response to it.
In their statement, the UFA expressed profound sorrow, remembering Beckwith as a hero who “stood tall for America, New York City, and all New Yorkers.” His dedication was not only evident in the iconic photograph but also in the countless hours he spent searching for fellow firefighters and victims in the devastating aftermath of the attacks.
It is with deep sorrow the UFA announces the passing of FF Bob Beckwith of L164. Bob is one of the heroes of 9/11 who stood tall for America, New York City and all New Yorkers, he spent many hours searching for the members we lost on that fateful day in 2001. pic.twitter.com/hK3xDB61u3
— FDNY UFA (@UFANYC) February 5, 2024
Beckwith, who joined the FDNY in 1956, was well into retirement on the day of the attacks. However, his unwavering commitment to service saw him return to the front lines, where he worked tirelessly alongside his brothers and sisters in the fire service during one of the nation’s darkest hours.
“Laura and I are saddened by the passing of Bob Beckwith,” former President Bush said in a statement on Monday.
“On September 11, 2001, Bob was happily retired after more than 30 years of service with the New York City Fire Department. When the terrorists attacked, Bob suited back up and, like so many brave first responders, raced toward the danger to save and search for others.”
“His courage represented the defiant, resilient spirit of New Yorkers and Americans after 9/11. I was proud to have Bob by my side at Ground Zero days later and privileged to stay in touch with this patriot over the years. Laura and I send our condolences to Barbara and the Beckwith family as they remember this decent, humble man.”
Bob Beckwith stood tall and gave us hope when we thought all was lost.
The megaphone he provided President Bush carried a message across the world.
— Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (@RepDesposito) February 5, 2024
Beckwith recounted in a 2005 CNN interview, saying, “I told my wife, ‘I’m going down.’” Despite his family’s efforts to dissuade him, Beckwith’s resolve was solidified upon discovering that the son of a coworker was one of the many firefighters unaccounted for. Armed with his former uniform and helmet securely in place, he made a swift departure to Ground Zero.
“I go start digging with the guys in the North Tower, and we come across a pumper with a 76 Engine,” said Beckwith. “And we’re working because we’re looking for survivors and we’re looking for people, and we’re hoping they found an air pocket or something.”
During the president’s visit, he engaged with the ironworkers, police officers, and firefighters present at the site. Beckwith observed, anticipating the president would head towards the microphones. Instead, to his surprise, the president approached, raised his arm, and Beckwith realized what was happening.
Upon assisting President Bush onto the vehicle, Beckwith attempted to descend, only to be halted by the president, who insisted, “Where are you going?” Beckwith explained he was instructed to descend, to which the president responded, “No, no, you stay right here.”
As the crowd’s chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A” quieted down, President Bush began to speak. Amidst this, a voice from the crowd claimed they couldn’t hear him.
With his arm around Beckwith, Bush proclaimed, “I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon,” igniting an outburst of applause from those gathered.
His legacy extends beyond the heroic efforts post-9/11, reflecting a career that spanned decades of dedicated service to the city of New York.