by W.B. King –
Humble, selfless, giving and positive are among words often associated with Bill Duggan. After 41 years as a celebrated Tarrytown volunteer firefighter, he is known to go the extra mile to help people—be it a stranger, family member or friend. Even a recent stage four brain cancer diagnosis hasn’t changed his upbeat, can-do attitude.
“I’m just a regular, normal guy who was dealt this hand,” said Duggan from his Mt. Kisco home on a Wednesday in mid-December. He related that just hours later he would begin a six week—Monday through Friday—chemotherapy and radiation rotation. “I’m going to beat this. I’m not giving up,” he added confidently.
A few days after Duggan received the diagnosis, he went out to lunch with a family friend, Mike Chillemi, who asked a pivotal question: “What’s on your bucket list?”
“I’ve always wanted to go the Super Bowl,” Duggan, a diehard New England Patriots fan, recalled telling Chillemi who is his best friend’s son. Without Duggan’s knowledge, and in an effort to raise required monies, Chillemi and other family and friends started a GoFundMe campaign.
“When I first heard about it, I asked them to take it down,” said Duggan. “I didn’t want people to think I was looking for charity.”
After Chillemi and others explained to Duggan that the GoFundMe campaign was a way for people to give back to him for all he has done for others throughout his life, Duggan finally conceded. He set his sights on possibly going to Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis, Minnesota at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“I told him he was crazy if he didn’t seize the opportunity to make his dream happen. It just shows what type of a guy he is,” said Tarrytown Fire Chief Dave Goldstein, who is also Duggan’s son-in-law. “He did not want people spending their time and hard-earned money trying to help him. I believe in karma, and Bill has some good karma stored up from all of the years he helped others. This was his time.”
Duggan, a Sleepy Hollow High School graduate (‘76), has volunteered at numerous fire departments in Westchester, including serving as chief of the Valhalla Fire Department. But he never strays too far from his “hometown” firehouse in Tarrytown where he first started as a volunteer and eventually served as captain.
“Bill has thrown himself in the line of danger for strangers for so many years,” said Chillemi. “He has always been there for his family and friends. He deserves this support.”
Super Bowl Wish Granted
It didn’t take long for the outpouring of support for Duggan to be realized. The campaign was officially stopped after it exceeded $12,000. Duggan said it was “mindboggling” that so many people contributed.
“One of my friends from high school sent a check for $1,000,” said Duggan, who added that he played for the Sleepy Hollow High School football team as a tight end. “Another lady, who I didn’t know, sent in $15 so I could get popcorn at the Super Bowl.”
The support wasn’t just in the form of hard cash. On Sunday December 9, Duggan was asked to stop by the Tarrytown Firehouse on Main Street.
“I thought something was happening with 10/10 Winds,” recalled Duggan. “I wasn’t sure what was going on, but there were a lot of people there.”
Moments later, Duggan was shaking hands with the National Football League’s Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“I’m not sure you can print what I said, but let’s say I was shocked,” said Duggan. He received four tickets to the Super Bowl from Goodell, who called him “Fire Chief Bill.”
“The NFL did such a great job and Roger Goodell couldn’t have been nicer to everyone. He shook hands and took pictures with everyone. His wife brought cookies, too,” said Duggan. “It was a day I will never forget.”
After receiving official Super Bowl hats, footballs and an NFL t-shirt for his beloved grandson, Michael Nathan, Duggan told Goodell and those in attendance that the people who “made all this happen” would be joining him at the Super Bowl. The road trip team will include Robert Racanelli, Dave Chillemi and Mike Chillemi.
“The monies raised from the gofundme campaign will go to the plane, hotel, transportation and meals for Bill and his friends,” said Goldstein. “When Bill received the tickets it was an emotional moment. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the firehouse.”