By Kathianne Boniello
As the doomed Twin Towers of the World Trade Center burned above him last week, Queens native and longtime city firefighter William Feehan was exactly where he wanted to be, his son said Saturday at Feehan’s burial mass in Flushing.
Feehan, first deputy commissioner of the city Fire Department, was buried Saturday along with Fire Department Chaplain Mychal Judge and Chief of Department Peter Ganci, all of whom perished in the Sept. 11 collapse of the World Trade Center. Roughly 300 members of the FDNY were among the nearly 5,000 people missing since last week’s terrorist attack.
“There was no place on earth my father enjoyed more than a fire scene,” Feehan’s oldest son, Bill, told the large crowd at St. Mel’s Church in Flushing. “I’m sure that this is where he would have wanted to be.”
At 8:48 a.m. Sept. 11, a hijacked plane crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers, starting an intense fire. About 15 minutes later a second plane hit the other tower. Hundreds of firefighters and police officers were already on the scene helping thousands of civilians escape the area when the towers then fell, trapping the city rescue personnel beneath tons of rubble and debris.
Former Fire Department spokesman Michael Regan said just before the Twin Towers crumbled Feehan was calling the firefighters back from their rescue efforts for safety reasons.
A native of Long Island City and nearly 40-year resident of Flushing, Feehan, 71, was a dedicated firefighter and the first to hold every position in the city Fire Department.
Feehan, whose father was a firefighter and whose son John is also a member of the FDNY, served the city for more than four decades and was acting fire commissioner from 1993 to 1994 under then-Mayor David Dinkins.
Among the city officials attending Feehan’s burial mass, which drew hundreds of mourners and uniformed firefighters, police officers and emergency personnel, were Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, Borough President Claire Shulman, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) and City Councilman Walter McCaffrey (D-Woodside).
Von Essen, who became emotional as he talked of both Feehan and his department’s losses, described Feehan as a dignified man.
“He could’ve done anything, he would’ve been anything — he was a firefighter,” Von Essen said. “I can’t tell you how much Commissioner Feehan meant to me.”
Giuliani, who received loud, long applause before he took the microphone, said Feehan “was just one of the most exceptional people who have ever served our city. This is the time we need Bill and we don’t have him.
“But we still have Bill,” the mayor told Feehan’s brother, four children and six grandchildren. “He’s not gone at all — we have every thought, every memory of everything he’s ever said to you. Bill is with you and with your family.”
At Feehan’s wake Sept. 13 at the Martin Gleason Funeral Home on Northern Boulevard at least three groups of firefighters still dressed in their gear joined mourners as police blocked traffic on Northern Boulevard to allow pedestrians to cross the street on the way to the wake.
Outside Gleason’s Funeral Home last week a grim-faced Vallone described Feehan as “a rock.”
“They all need a Bill Feehan to tell them what to do,” Vallone said of the important role Feehan had played in succeeding city administrations. “He was the power behind the thrown.”
Feehan’s son Bill described his father as a “wonderful father and a wonderful husband to my mother.”
Elizabeth Feehan died in 1996, her son said. The Feehans had been married since 1956 and had four children: Bill, Elizabeth, Tara and John.
“We’re going to miss him terribly,” Bill Feehan said. “He loved being a New York City fireman and loved everything about the department. He was a very honorable, straightforward guy. At the end of his life he accounted for himself very well.”
Feehan was born in Long Island City, grew up in Jackson Heights and graduated from St. John’s University in 1952 before serving in the Korean War. He was appointed to the FDNY in October 1959 and moved with his family to Flushing in 1963, his son said.
His father’s career in the city Fire Department was “a great source of pride,” Bill Feehan said.
Former FDNY Spokesman Michael Regan said Feehan “was not going to retire. The Fire Department was his lifeblood.”
Regan said Feehan had been stationed at a command board which displays the location of Fire Department units during a fire scene in the initial moments of the World Trade Center rescue effort.
“He ordered the board back,” Regan said. “He was concerned about safety. As they were coming back, the building collapsed and took their lives.”
Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.