William Feehan: The Can-Do
he was not fighting fires, William Feehan walked the
fields of Gettysburg, toured Churchill's War Room and
read naval history. Military culture, with its embrace of
tradition and tactics, appealed to Mr. Feehan much the
way firefighting did, said his son, William Feehan
He remembered his father tracing the path of Pickett's
Charge, mapped in his mind by accounts he had read in a
novel, "The Killer Angels." The senior William Feehan, a
New York City firefighter who ascended through the ranks
to serve as first deputy fire commissioner, recommended
the book often.
One who read it at his suggestion, Firefighter Vincent
Panaro, was there when the towers fell and Commissioner
Feehan was killed. At his wake, two days later,
Firefighter Panaro stood sentry in his dress blues at his
mentor's coffin. "He refused to leave until he was
relieved," the younger Mr. Feehan said.
It was that sort of bond, that sort of Semper Fi
can-doism, that Commissioner Feehan thought was intrinsic
to the firefighter ranks, his family said. It explained,
he thought, how people, whether they be soldiers or
firefighters, found it within themselves to charge into
harm's way to save complete strangers.
When he died, Commissioner Feehan, 71, was the oldest
and highest-ranking firefighter ever to die in the line
William Feehan, Fire
Recorded in New York City.
Premiered September 15, 2001, on Weekend Edition
To the firefighters he led, William Feehan was
legendary. The son of a firefighter and the father of
another, it was said that he knew the location of every
fire hydrant in New York City. Feehan joined the city's
fire department in 1959 as a member of Ladder Company 3.
In his 42 years with the department, Feehan steadily made
his way through the ranks. When he was named acting
commissioner in 1991, he become the first person in
history to have held every possible position in the
Feehan died in the line of duty on September 11, 2001,
when the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed
on his command station. He was 71. This oral history was
recorded in 1992 by Feehan's son Billy and photographer
Harvey Wang. It is dedicated to the members of the New
York City Fire Department and to all of the men and women
who have risked -- and lost -- their lives to save the
lives of others.