Fallen stars

— The fire­men who per­ished in Monday's ware­house blaze in Kens­ing­ton hailed from the North­east.

Loc­al fire­fight­ers, out­side the Lad­der 10 sta­tion, give their con­dol­ences to Daniel Sweeney’s par­ents. Daniel and Lt. Robert Neary lost their lives fight­ing a fire in Kens­ing­ton, Tues­day, April 10, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)


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.” ••


You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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