Bob Beckwith, a retired firefighter renowned for his courage and resilience, died on Sunday, February 4, 2024, aged 91, after succumbing to 9/11-related cancer.
His death was confirmed by the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) and the Uniformed Firefighters Association, marking the end of a life characterized by service, bravery, and a moment that moved the nation.
Beckwith became a symbol of hope and unity when he was photographed next to President George W. Bush in the ruins of Ground Zero, just days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Despite being 69 and having retired in 1994, Beckwith put on his firefighter gear again to participate in the search and rescue operations, exhibiting the unwavering spirit of New Yorkers and the nation as a whole.
Beckwith, a native of New York City, started his career with the FDNY in 1965, serving primarily with Ladder 164 in Queens. His over three-decade-long commitment to the city until his retirement was nothing short of profound.
The image of Beckwith standing next to President Bush, taken on September 14, 2001, as Bush delivered a significant speech at Ground Zero, remains ingrained in the nation’s memory. It signified the valor of the FDNY during its most challenging time and the nation’s determination to recover and rebuild.
Both Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh and New York Rep. Anthony D’Esposito paid tribute to Beckwith’s legacy, acknowledging his bravery and hope.
The Uniformed Firefighters Association of the FDNY expressed their profound respect for Beckwith, acknowledging his significant sacrifices during the events two decades ago. “Bob represents a prominent figure among the 9/11 heroes, embodying the spirit of the nation, New York City, and its people,” the association stated on X.
Post-retirement, Beckwith continued to make an impact, advocating for healthcare for 9/11 first responders and helping others come to terms with their experiences of that fateful day. He did public speaking and fundraising, donating all the money received to the New York Firefighters Burn Center Foundation.
He leaves behind his wife, Barbara, six children, ten grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. In an interview a year ago Beckwith stated that he had malignant skin cancer.
A memorial service for Beckwith was held on Long Island on February 10, where friends, family, and a grateful nation said their final goodbyes to this true American hero.
Beckwith’s journey from the firehouses of New York to becoming a national symbol illustrates a life dedicated to the city he served and to the principles of bravery and community that survive in his absence.