“He is the Fire Department”

Published: September 10, 2021

By Jim Lichtman
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Remembering 9/11, we tend to remember the whole event rather than the personal stories.

More than 2,753 individuals died in New York City, Shanksville, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon that day. New York suffered the loss of 343 firefighters. One of them was 42-year veteran First Deputy Fire Commissioner William Feehan.

It was reported that Feehan was so knowledgeable that he “was thought to know the location of every fire hydrant in the city.”

A close friend said that Bill Feehan “is the Fire Department.”

Chief Feehan was survived by his daughters, Elizabeth Feehan and Tara Davan, and sons, William Feehan and firefighter John Feehan, who had worked in Squad Company 252 and is currently Captain of Engine 249,” Wikipedia notes.

In a special print section of the New York Times (not available online), Feehan is remembered by some of his children.

“You know, he came home smelling of smoke,” Tara recalled, “but it was always obvious how much he loved it. Always.”

“He had a love for the department and the city as a whole,” Elizabeth said, “A very deep and abiding love. It takes a lot of studying to rise in the department, and you need a lot of support from your spouse to do that . . . So, every time my father got promoted, he would always thank my mother for giving him the time to study.”

His son Bill spoke of his leadership skills. “I think the combination of his character and his competence really defined his leadership. The character he had all the way through, and people saw that and really responded to that. The competence came from the fact that he was passionate about what he did, he really loved the New York City Fire Department and he worked very hard. He didn’t take any shortcuts. He earned his credibility at every step along the way, and he generated respect from people as he gained positions of authority. He kept his humanity and compassion. And that’s why people really loved him.”

His daughter Tara recalled, “When you were speaking to him, he made you feel like you were the most important person in the room. Whatever you were saying to him or speaking to him about, he was very much focused on what you were saying. He listened very heartily and carefully to people, and he had that way about him that you just wanted to be in his presence a lot.”

“Even the elevator operator at headquarters said, ‘Your father treated me like I was his fellow chief,’” Elizabeth added.

“The amount of pride that we have I don’t think could be put into words,” Bill said. “As a father, what he was to all of us was certainly one thing. But the way we lost him, as tragic as it was, I feel lucky almost. We’re so proud and so lucky that he was ours and that this is the way he died . . . doing something he loved so much and trying to save people.

“He was emblematic of a whole community of people who do this . . . He stands out but he doesn’t stand alone.”

“My father’s career in the first department was one thing,” Elizabeth said. “What he really gave to us as a family, as far as passing on our faith and taking care of each other through thick or thin, no matter what . . . that is what really is timeless.”

“You know, this is the 20th anniversary of 9/11,” son Bill reflected, “but in our family it’s much more present all the time. For me—who’s still active and working in a firehouse with Battalion 19 in the Bronx—it’s all around us. I stay on the job because every day I get to help people. It’s still about answering the bell, jumping on the red rig, racing through the streets and helping. Many don’t realize, there’s a fireboat named after him. When [the FDNY] goes to respond to a capsized boat or people in the water, people in trouble, it’s the ‘Feehan’ that’s responding. So here it is, 20 years later, and the Feehan is still out there helping residents of this city and that’s a wonderful legacy.

“For me, it’s very simple. This is someone who, from the beginning to the end, in all dimensions, lived for others. He lived his life for others.”

There were many heroes on 9/11. Chief Feehan was one of them.

Chief, a documentary honoring the life of Chief Feehan will air in the New York area on WNET, tonight on local New York television and will livestream on FDNYpro.org.

Note: Commentaries are scheduled to appear Tuesdays and Fridays.


  1. So grateful for those who help serve us daily like “42-year veteran First Deputy Fire Commissioner William Feehan who from the beginning to the end, in all dimensions, lived for others. He lived his life for others.”

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