Long before his death in the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, FDNY First Deputy Commissioner William M. Feehan was a legendary figure in the ranks.
When he died at age 71 in the South Tower collapse, Feehan was the longest-serving and highest-ranking firefighter to die in the line of duty with the FDNY. He was also the first to hold every rank in his remarkable 42-year career.
Born in Long Island City in 1929, Feehan grew up in Jackson Heights. He graduated from St. John’s University in 1952, then enlisted in the army and served in combat in the Korean War.
Feehan was a substitute teacher before joining the FDNY in 1959, beginning a journey that led to a brief tenure as acting fire marshal during the final months of the Dinkins administration. When the Giuliani administration moved into City Hall, Feehan remained in a leadership role.
On 9/11, Feehan was with Department Chief Peter Ganci, another Queens firefighting hero, when he spotted a bystander recording people as they jumped to their deaths from hell that was doing rage in both towers.
“You have no decency,” Feehan shouted.
When he awoke two days later at Martin Gleason’s funeral home in Whitestone, groups of firefighters arrived in their gear straight from Ground Zero as the NYPD blocked traffic on Northern Boulevard.
Former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone observed the scene outside the funeral home and described Feehan as “a rock”.
“They all need a Bill Feehan to tell them what to do,” Vallone said. “He was the power behind the throne.”
A new documentary film about Feehan will premiere on the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
Titled “Chief,” in honor of the rank Feehan most identifies with, the highest unnamed rank that firefighters can attain through promotions based on their service and experience, the nearly 25-minute documentary follows Feehan’s actions at the World Trade Center interspersed with highlights from his storied FDNY career.
The film features archival footage and interviews with current and former FDNY members – including Commissioner Daniel Nigro and former Commissioner Thomas Von Essen – as “always the first out” when there has been a major FDNY response and as a “fire knowledge center”. department” who advocated for firefighter safety with the mantra, “What did we do for the guys in the field today? How have we worked to improve their lives? »
the documentary pays homage to his legacy in FDNY history—Feehan would have known the location of every fire hydrant in the city—and as an advocate for policies that improved firefighter safety.
The documentary will also honor Feehan’s legacy by raising awareness of FirstNet, the only dedicated high-speed national broadband communications platform purpose-built for America’s first responders and the broader public safety community. The lack of intra-service connectivity in radios used by first responders has taken its toll during the attacks.
“Chief Feehan and 342 of his fellow FDNY members lost their lives on 9/11 and we will never forget their bravery and sacrifice,” said FirstNet Authority CEO Edward Parkinson. “After 9/11, public safety across the country came together to push for a national communications network to help first responders protect themselves. FirstNet was born out of their efforts. Today, as we work to support America’s first responders, we keep the memory of Chief Feehan and all those who selflessly responded to 9/11 central to everything we do.
Chief will air on New York Public Television during the week of September 6 and will premiere publicly in person at the Museum of the City of New York on Saturday, September 11.
Proceeds will support the FDNY’s George F. Mand Library Archives at Randall’s Island Fire Academy to honor Chief Feehan’s love and deep knowledge of FDNY history.