Two Philadelphia firefighters who lived in the Northeast were killed early Monday while battling flames that had spread from a blaze in a long-vacant Kensington warehouse.
Lt. Robert Neary, 59, of Gaston Lane in Somerton and Firefighter Daniel Sweeney, 25, of Fuller Street in Fox Chase, both of Ladder 10, were killed when a furniture store next to the Thomas W. Buck Hosiery building collapsed at 5:21 a.m. Monday. Firefighter Francis Chaney II, also of Ladder 10, and Firefighter Patrick Nally of Ladder 16, were injured. Chaney, 43, was treated at a hospital and released. Nally, 25, remained hospitalized Tuesday.
The men were part of a small army of firefighters who were on the scene to battle a 3:13 a.m. five-alarm fire at the vacant six-story warehouse at 1827 E. York St.
“Fire suppression and ladder operations were initiated after the fire was placed under control at 5:21 a.m.,” according to Executive Chief Richard Davison.
Because of the intensity of the warehouse fire and high winds, flames had spread to nearby buildings. Neary, Sweeney, Chaney and Nally were working to contain flames inside the adjacent Giamari Furniture Store, 2411 Kensington Ave., when that building collapsed.
The cause of the blaze is under investigation by the fire marshal’s office.
Bill Gault, president of the firefighters’ union Local 22, said there had been previous incidents at the empty York Street warehouse, but nothing as serious as Monday’s fire.
“This didn’t have to happen,” Gault said. “These men are heroes.”
Neary was a 38-year Fire Department veteran, Gault said in an e-mail to the Northeast Times. He had been a lieutenant since 1983 and had been awarded four unit citations. He was a Philadelphia police officer for three years before joining the Fire Department and had served as an Army reservist for 10 years. Neary leaves behind his wife, Diane; and their three children, Robert, Christopher and Dianne.
“Firefighter Daniel Sweeney followed in the footsteps of his father, retired Fire Capt. David Sweeney, and joined the Philadelphia Fire Department in July of 2006. He had been stationed at Ladder 10 since 2007. Daniel was awarded two unit citations in his career,” Gault wrote. Besides his father, he is survived by his mother, Marian.
The Bucks County Courier-Times reported Sweeney worked part-time as a paramedic for three Bucks County ambulance squads — Penndel-Middletown, Warminster and Tri-Hampton.
At midday Tuesday, members of Ladder 10, Engine 7 and Medic 2 lined up with Commissioner Lloyd Ayers at their firehouse at Castor and Kensington avenues to pay their respects to Sweeney’s family.
A small memorial composed of fire helmets, boots and an ever-growing amount of flowers was set up outside the firehouse.
Chaney is an eight-year firefighter. Nally has been in the department for five years. Nally, Gault said, was in critical but stable condition at Temple University Hospital. Davison said Tuesday that Nally still was being treated.
The building, listed in city records as 1817-41 E. York St., was vacant for 25 years, Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez said Monday evening. She said that when the old Buck Hosiery property was sold three years ago, people were happy to see there was a proposal to develop it.
There were plans to put eighty-one apartments in the property. “That’s how huge it is,” she said. But the market tanked, the councilwoman said.
York Street Property Development LP of Langhorne purchased the property in 2009, according to city records, and in that time has not paid almost $60,000 in taxes. Mark McDonald, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter, said $13,000 in water bills also remain unpaid. McDonald said the company owns more than 30 other properties in the city and that the building that burned down was to be sold at a sheriff’s sale.
The building has been something of a nuisance. The city’s Department of Licenses & Inspections has been to the property six times since November, Quinones-Sanchez said. The property has been broken into, sealed and broken into again, she said.
Jeff Carpineta, president of the East Kensington Neighbors Association, said the paper trail of problems went back to October 2011 when a local man started a campaign to get neighbors to call the city’s 311 number to complain about the building.
Carpineta said he got a call about the fire at 3:20 a.m. Monday and was on the scene minutes later.
“By the time I got here, the building was fully involved at all five or six floors,” he said.
Carpineta said residents had seen “people scrapping and coming in and out of the building,” he said. “We knew that it was not secure.”
In a midday news conference Monday in City Hall, L&I Commissioner Fran Burns said her department had been to the property.
“We have a very clear policy, which we followed,” she said. “Three inspections from our department and we prosecute in court.”
“Safety, though, begins with the owner of the property,” said Everett Gillison, deputy mayor for public safety. “We have to follow the process.”
That process, he explained, is to inspect the property and to give the owner an opportunity to clear up the problems. The city might consider filing criminal negligence charges against the building’s owners, he said Monday.
Standing across the street from the burned-out building Tuesday, Carpineta said he and others are putting together a coalition that will try to get City Council members and city agencies to “reckon with the fact that it is going to keep happening and there needs to be a change in policy that has to do with prevention.”
“Anybody that knows Philly history or is involved in these kinds of actions in the city, you know the building is going to burn eventually,” said. “It’s inevitable.” ••EndFragment