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St. Francis Prep alum dies a hero doing job he loved

Mike Brennan’s Sunnyside apartment has not changed since he left for work Sept. 10. One quick glance and it becomes quite evident that Brennan loved being a firefighter.

His bedroom is adorned with assorted FDNY paraphernalia. Next to Hollywood movies in the livingroom is the “Firefighters: Brothers in Battle” video collection. Firefighting was his life. And it was his death.

“In the apartment, you can totally feel his presence,” said Chuck Schwarha, 29, who shared the two-bedroom apartment on 43rd Street off Greenpoint Avenue. “Sometimes I go to the door and hope to see him, but you know he’s not going to be there.”

A few blocks away at St. Raphael’s Roman Catholic Church in Long Island City, Brennan, 27, was remembered Friday as family, friends and fellow firefighters attended a memorial service for “Mikey B,” a man who died living his dream.

“No one loved the job more than he did,” said John O’Sullivan, 27, one of Brennan’s closest friends. “It was all he talked about. He used to say what other job could you go to where you save people for a living.”

Across the street from the church, a large American flag hung between the raised ladders of two FDNY trucks. Behind it, the Manhattan skyline not only served as background but as a remembrance of where Brennan died on Sept. 11.

Brennan, a six-year veteran who was the youngest in his class at the New York Fire Department Academy, was on duty with Ladder 4 in the Theater District. He and 14 others from his firehouse raced into the Trade Center after the first plane struck. The 15 were never heard from again.

“I can safely speak for all his family, friends and anyone who ever knew him, if he was working that day, he was in there saving lives,” said Brian Mackle, 26, another of Brennan’s best friends. “That’s just who Mike was.”

In the hours after the terrorist attack, Brennan’s friends received word that a Michael Brennan was brought to a local hospital and was treated and released. But their immediate feelings of elation turned to despair when they learned it was not their Michael Brennan.

O’Sullivan, his brother Joe and a few of Brennan’s other friends, all members of the New York City District Council of Carpenters, Local 608, went to Ground Zero Sept. 12 to not only help clear debris, but to search for their fallen friend.

“In a strange way, it was easier being down there than sitting at home watching television,” O’Sullivan said. “It gave us a sense of control. We were too busy to worry. I think Mike was looking down on us and was proud of us.”

O’Sullivan said the service for Brennan, attended by Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, Deputy Mayor Rudy Washington of Laurelton, City Councilman Walter McCaffrey (D-Woodside) and state Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood), gave him a sense of closure after a “monthlong wake.”

During the memorial, Brennan’s older brother, Jimmy, said Brennan lived a full life, doing more in 27 years than some others accomplished in 127 years. Father Tom Pettei, the church’s pastor, said it was the first time that a pizza parlor had delivered flowers for a memorial service. Firefighter Louis Esposito, one of Brennan’s closest friends from Ladder 4, joked “the only thing bigger than Mike’s melon head and stomach was his heart.”

According to Mackle, Brennan was a hero all his life. He recalled a hot late summer afternoon when Mackle was sophomore at St. Francis Prep. Brennan, a senior at the time, injured his neck during football practice and was lying prone on the grass at Cunningham Park where Mackle raced to his side.

“Here was Mike in this neck brace, he was the tough guy and it was scary,” he said. “But he was just calm and kept telling me that’s it really hot out and to make sure I drink plenty of water. He was about to be taken away in an ambulance and he wanted to make sure I stayed hydrated. He was just heroic in nature.”

As Schwarha, O’Sullivan, Mackle and the rest of Brennan’s friends lined up outside St. Raphael’s following the service, a New York City Police Department helicopter flew over the scene, paying its respects.

“I think that said a lot,” O’Sullivan said. “He certainly did go out in style. He died a hero. It’s how he lived and it’s how he died.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

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