For the last nine years, on Sept. 29, Sharon Hill Borough has hosted a nightly vigil for fallen Sharon Hill firefighter Michael D. Reagan, Jr., 21, who succumbed to injuries three days after an 8 foot by 10 foot steel beam fell on him during a garage fire in 2007.
But this year, for the 10th anniversary of the young first responder’s death, elected borough officials unanimously voted to visibly imprint Reagan’s memory onto the community, for all to see, by renaming Roberts Avenue to Michael Reagan Way.
“It’s very nice. We’re just honored that they did that, we never expected it,” said Sue Reagan, Michael’s mother, adding that she was made aware of the renaming ceremony from her daughter and Michael’s sister just one week prior to the event.
A white sheet, draped over the new street sign posted against a telephone pole, was pulled down by Sharon Hill Fire Chief William Benecke to reveal the new bright red sign, colored to represent firefighters.
Below the sign, Borough Council, members of the Sharon Hill Fire Company, the surviving Reagan family, religious leaders, county officials and the community gathered at the center of the street formerly known as Roberts Avenue.
“To me, it’s the biggest thing that needs to happen in Delaware County, that the local politicians and the volunteer fire companies come together as one,” Benecke said. “We need them to succeed and they need us to be here for the borough and it’s just amazing when it all comes together. To honor Mike in this way, I don’t think there’s anything greater they could have done than to name the street after him.”
The decision to rename the street was spearheaded by Council President Michael Finnegan and unanimously supported by Council.
Leading up to the anticipation to unveil the new sign, Collingdale Fire Co. 1 Chaplain Perry Messick recalled the day, exactly 10 years ago, when Reagan and two of his colleagues were rushed to Crozer-Chester Medical Center from the fire scene.
“What really impressed me was when I turned around and saw the entire staff of the burn center in tears behind me…” he allowed.
Reagan’s heroism that brought the hospital staff to tears a decade ago, as described by Messick, was revered last Thursday by every speaker, especially Ridley Township Commissioner Patrick McMenamin who posed the question: What makes a young man want to become a fireman?
“It’s a calling, not a choice,” said McMenamin. “Michael, at sometime during his life, was touched by the actions of other firemen; things that he witnessed in his life that inspired him to be what he saw and inspired him to do the things that he did…”
Seeing youngsters like Reagan expressing interest in continuing the first responder legacy,
Borough Council Vice President Terrence Oliver said, “This is a special occasion, we’re recognizing somebody who gave a lot for the community and the borough. These people do jobs that we won’t do, they go into danger that’s unheard of and they volunteer to do it. It’s really wonderful to be able to do a tribute to someone who gave their all for us to be safe.”
Benecke said Michael “loved life and loved people. He wanted to serve the people, first as a firefighter and then as a police officer. He wanted to do what he could for people who were in distress.”
Benecke said Reagan, like all volunteer firefighters, was aware of the risks.
“It’s life,” Benecke said. “Unfortunately, you have to hope it doesn’t happen to you, but you have to make the best of it.” He said volunteers cope with these realities by developing camaraderie, a family, among their peers.
Benecke said, “After Mike’s funeral, at the firehouse, I said to Mike Reagan Sr., Mike was our family and now you guys are. And that’s part of the way we can continue.”
The interest in volunteer firefighting among youngsters like Reagan is a phenomenon that is dwindling, which makes Benecke proud because his son and daughter are both firefighters.
Reagan, who had been a firefighter for two years prior to his death, expressed interest in being a first responder at a young age. Sue Reagan and Benecke said Michael’s career goal was to first become a firefighter then segue with into law enforcement as a police officer.
“It’s something that’s in your blood and what’s you’re in, you’re in and Mike was in.” Benecke said. “He loved life and wanted to help people and after the street renaming ceremony in Sharon Hill, the fire company traveled to the Delaware County Fallen Firefighter and EMS Memorial at Rose Tree Park in Media for a moment of silence at Reagan’s plaque. The group ended the vigil at Reagan’s gravesite, a few miles away from the park.
Scores of people (top) including residents, county and community leaders and first responder supporters gathered last week under a covered sign on what was once Roberts Avenue to celebrate the renaming of the street to Michael Reagan Way (bottom)