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New book tells FDNY history through four generations of Irish-Americans

A new book tells the fascinating history of the New York City Fire Department through four generations of Irish-American firefighters spanning 100 years.

Brian McDonald’s “Five Floors Up” tells the story of FDNY from the perspective of the Feehan family, who have been involved with the fire department since William Patrick Feehan joined the fire department in 1926.

The book spans some of the most significant times and events in FDNY history, including the turbulent 1970s and the 9/11 tragedy.

The story highlights the illustrious career of William Michael Feehan, the son of William Patrick Feehan, who became the only firefighter to serve in any rank of the fire department.

William Patrick joined the FDNY at the age of 34 in 1926, shortly after horse-drawn fire engines were phased out.

The youngest child of Irish immigrants from County Mayo, William Patrick was hospitalized at least three times during his career and underwent final rites once.

McDonald told Irish Central that William Patrick has something of a “hero gene.”

“I know some firefighters cannot avoid putting themselves in the most dangerous situations to help strangers,” McDonald said.

William Michael, on the other hand, was more ambitious than his father, going through all ranks in the fire department and eventually becoming Fire Commissioner.

That’s not to say William Michael wasn’t heroic in his career.

As a fire chief in the 1970s, he regularly risked his life while stationed in a “very active fire station” in Harlem, where fires frequently broke out in five-story tenements.

It was those tenements that inspired the title of the book. There were so many stairs and obstacles inside the building that it was notoriously dangerous among Harlem firefighters. Firefighters often joked that fires start in the most inaccessible parts of a building, giving rise to the expression “five floors up, five rooms deep.”

According to McDonald, the expression became their “call to arms.”

William Michael, who was believed to know the location of “every fire hydrant in the city,” was the fire chief during the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

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He was killed while leading a rescue operation at the nearby Marriott Hotel when the North Tower collapsed.

However, his legacy lives on through his son John, who is now a battalion commander, and his grandson Connor, who is stationed at the Brooklyn Fire Station.

McDonald said the Feehan family is part of the terminally ill clan of Irish-American firefighters, adding that the passing of the baton between generations has begun to decline.

“It’s not as appealing to the younger generation[of Irish-Americans]as it used to be,” McDonald said.

Irish and Irish-Americans who found civil service jobs through their ties to Tammany Hall dominated the fire department in the early 20th century, and by 1900 recognized 75% of all firefighters as Irish Catholics. was

That was true until 9/11, McDonald said.

“If you read the list of firefighters who died on 9/11, most of them have Irish names.”

*”Five Floors Up: The Heroic Family Story of Four Generations in the FDNY” is currently accepting reservations. Please check this out for details.