Mike Regan had quit the Fire Department, but when September 11 happened, he was back on the job immediately.
Down at Ground Zero, he helped to recover the bodies of his comrades, including Fire Chiefs William Feehan and Pete Ganci. Then, with the FDNY gutted of leadership, Regan took on the role of First Deputy Commissioner, and for three awful months worked seven days a week 18 hours a day, helping to rebuild the department.
Regan, who was at City Hall, a block and a half away from the WTC, when the first tower was hit, says he knew immediately that he had to go help his friends.
His former colleague at the Fire Department Lynn Tierney, who also worked with Regan when he was with the Port Authority, says, “Mike and I were extraordinarily close to Port Authority operations people who helped evacuate people this time and in 1993.”
It was the 1993 WTC bombing that Regan first earned his reputation as a hands-on guy. Then working for the Port Authority, he took care of the victims’ families, seeing that they had whatever they needed, and arranging memorials. To get information on the dead and injured, he took a fireman’s axe, walked up 63 flights and broke into a filing cabinet to get personnel files.
Tierney calls Regan “an absolutely extraordinary communicator,” and says that his knowledge of the World Trade Center was invaluable in stabilizing the situation after September 11.
Of the 343 firefighters who were lost in the largest single-day death toll in the history of the department, almost 100 were senior personnel, and many had other family members in the Fire Department.
“When you think,” Regan says, “that over ninety firemen who were lost had brothers who were firefighters and include the fact that so much of the hierarchy and all seasoned judgement was lost…” he trails off. “Chief Feenan [who was First Deputy Commissioner at the time of his death] was a forty-year veteran of the department. He served in every single position. Then there was Peter Ganci, the chief of Department, and Ray Downey, the chief of Rescue — these people represent one hundred years of experience between them.”
And while the department is in the process of regaining its strength and its ability to save lives and serve the public, Regan says, “It will never forget the losses it suffered.”
Regan, one of six children, grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in a firefighting family.
His father and two uncles, John and Tom, are firefighters. His father’s family is from the borders of Roscommon and Mayo, while his mother’s family comes from Northern Ireland. At the first opportunity Mike says he wants to go “home” to Ireland to play golf. ♦