Volunteer firefighter Michael Reagan always wanted a tattoo, but he never could decide what to get. The 19-year-old seemed to have decades left to make that decision. But on Saturday, Reagan, a member of the Sharon Hill Fire Department in Delaware County, died at Crozer-Chester Medical Center from injuries he received in a fire Wednesday night.
Some young members of his department immediately knew how to honor their fallen comrade: their own tattoos.
As more than a dozen veterans of the department manned the station yesterday, young volunteers came by, peeling back their fresh bandages and showing off their permanent tributes to Rea-gan.
Some were inked on their arms, others on their calves, but the image was always the same — a black Sharon Hill shield with Reagan’s name and the call number of the fire — 286 — in which he lost his life.
Reagan, of Ridley, a criminal-justice major at Delaware County Community College, joined the department more than two years ago. He became the first firefighter in the department to die battling a blaze.
The 2006 Ridley High School graduate had dreamed of becoming a police officer.
In pursuit of his dream, Rea-gan began working part-time with the Ridley Police Department last year, firefighter Michael Galli said.
“He liked to have fun, he was a good kid,” Galli said, sitting behind a table overflowing with food and beverage donations from across the county.
“On top of the situation being overwhelming, the donations have been overwhelming,” he said. “We’ve received unbelievable support from the surrounding communities.”
Outside of the firehouse under a flag raised at half-staff, a make-shift memorial, replete with
Reagan’s firefighting gear, teemed with more than a dozen bouquets of flowers.
Passing strangers stopped in to offer condolences, and firefighters and police officers from across the county have called or stopped by to offer assistance, Galli said.
Joanne Barbine, of Collingdale, left a bouquet of white roses and more than a few tears at the firehouse memorial yesterday. She and Reagan were in the same platoon in fire school at the Delaware County Emergency Services Training Center this year.
“He was the sweetest young guy I ever met, and he had the best smile I’ve ever seen,” Barbine said. “He was dedicated to what he was doing. It’s very rare to see young men that dedicated today, and he did it for nothing. He didn’t do it for the glory, he did it just because.”
The firehouse has become a temporary shrine to the fallen teenager. A black cloth is draped over the place where Reagan once hung his gear, and more than 50 pictures of him are posted throughout the firehouse.
From a photo of a recent trip to the North Carolina shore to a flattering shot of the slim 6-foot-1 firefighter in a sombrero, Reagan seems to be exactly how he describes himself on his MySpace page — “the life of the party.”
“He was a goofball,” Terre McCann, Sharon Hill’s assistant fire chief, said. “Except when we were on a fire. Things changed when you got on the truck. All his clowning stopped, and he became very serious.”
Reagan’s final call was about 11 p.m. Wednesday, when the department responded to a garage fire on Coates Street.
The fire was almost extinguished when the roof collapsed, trapping Rea-gan under a door. Two other Sharon Hill firefighters also were trapped. Both suffered second-degree burns and were released from the hospital by Saturday. In addition, another firefighter and two police officers suffered minor injuries, for which they were treated and released.
While Delaware County residents mourn the passing of one volunteer firefighter, their prayers remain with Chase Frost, 21, a Parkside firefighter who is in critical condition at Crozer-Chester Medical Center since an Aug. 11 blaze.
Frost was burned on more than half his body battling a townhouse fire.
Fellow firefighter Dan Brees, 20, spent 10 days in the hospital before he was released.