by Lou Angeli
Wilmington, DE (April 18, 2008) – It is with sadness that I share information dealing with the death of a great firefighter and friend, John P. Mulhern, Jr. Sean was 66 when he passed away on April 15th at the Christiana Hospital (Wilmington, DE), where he was surrounded by his family and friends.
If ever a man was born to serve others in this world, it was Sean Mulhern. During his early years he leaned toward a military career, attending Valley Forge Military Academy as a cadet, then as a member of the Delaware National Guard.
He entered the fire service some 40 years ago during the height of Wilmington’s infamous King riots – a city ablaze for months. It was the late 60’s and Sean saw a great deal of action as an Auxiliary firefighter with the city's Civil Defense Reserve Unit. With Wilmington still a hotbed of action, it was no surprise when Sean entered career service with the WFD as a firefighter assigned to Rescue-1.
As a Wilmington firefighter, Sean served in every division, including fire suppression, administration and as an arson investigator. He earned his bars both as a Lieutenant and Captain as soon as he was able to test for those ranks, and not much later was promoted to Battalion Chief under the command of Chief Jerome Donahue.
One evening, as Sean and I shared war stories on the bench in front of the old Fire Station 2 (12th and French Streets), he told me what I considered to be a pretty tall tale.
“Louie,’ pulling the unlit cigar away from his lips, ‘someday I’ll be chief of this department.”
I laughed and reminded him that his last name needed to be Malloy to achieve such an honor. At the time, 3 generations of the Malloy family were on the job, serving from Chief down to firefighter. But nevertheless, he assured me that the 5-bugle shield would someday be attached to his jacket.
Sean Mulhern was appointed Chief of Department in 1985 at a time when city fire departments throughout the East Coast were losing jobs to layoffs, cutbacks and station closings. But Mulhern managed to keep the Wilmington Fire Department at full force, maintaining staffing of four firefighters on every apparatus. “The Chief” was aggressive when it came to the actual firefight, and during his tenure, companies were trained to fight fires more efficiently and in safer fashion. The safety of his crews was at the top of Mulhern's "to do" list at every incident.
His work as a tactician and administrator were recognized nationally, and the Wilmington Fire Department soon became a template for similar sized agencies nationwide. The key to his success, as Sean always noted, was that he surrounded himself with a talented fireline and administrative staff.
In 1993, Sean fell victim to Wilmington’s political machine, and upon the election of Mayor James Sills, the city’s greatest firefighter was asked to step down. He may have stepped down, but his career continued to move upward serving as head of the State’s Emergency Management Agency (DEMA) and in 2001 as Vice President of Security for MBNA Bank's worldwide facilities.
There is a time each day that I think about the brave men and women that we in the firefighting family have lost. The 343, the Charleston Nine, the Worcester Six as well as great individuals like Jim Page, Tommy Brennan and so many others. From this moment on, when I recall those great firefighters, John P. Mulhern, Jr. will be the first to come to mind. Sean Mulhern was my friend, colleague and mentor, and now that he’s gone, that relationship has even greater meaning to me.
Sean is survived by the woman he adored, his wife Coleen Pope-Mulhern and their children Felicia M. Pope and Victoria L. Pope.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to the education fund for daughters, Felicia M. and Victoria L. Pope. Checks made payable to Felicia M. Pope/Victoria L. Pope; WSFS Bank, P.O. Box 1889, Wilmington, DE, 19899-9713, ATTENTION: Pope Education Fund on envelope.Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 11 am on Tuesday April 22, 2008 at St. Elizabeth's Roman Catholic Church, 809 S. Broom St., Wilmington, DE 19805. Entombment will follow Mass in Gracelawn Memorial Park. Family and friends may call from 5-8 pm on Monday April 21 at CHANDLER FUNERAL HOME, 2506 Concord Pike, Wilmington.