The long blue line started forming up in the center of Academy Road about 2 p.m. last Friday.
Firefighters and police officers dominated the street full of people there to pay their respects to Lt. Robert Neary, who died April 9 along with firefighter Daniel Sweeney.
“See you over there,” many of them said to each other as they left the Givnish Funeral Home and headed for their cars. They each had one more stop to make, another blue line to join.
On the other side of the Northeast, Sweeney’s viewing was to begin in the evening at St. Cecilia’s Roman Catholic Church in Fox Chase. But just as it had outside the Academy Road funeral home, the line of sadness began hours earlier than published viewing times.
Children from the parish school held flags outside the church as the somber adults took their places on Rhawn Street, about a half-block from where the black-draped Ladder 10 truck was parked.
Sweeney, 25, the son of a retired Fire Department captain, and Neary, 59, who had 38 years in the department, were members of Ladder 10. They were killed early Monday, April 9, about a mile and half from their Kensington and Castor firehouse when a building collapsed. Two other firefighters were injured.
They had been trying to knock down flames in a building adjacent to a vacant multistory York Street warehouse that had been on fire since a little after 3 a.m.
The fire in the old Buck Hosiery building on the 1800 block of York was under control at 5:21 a.m., but flames had spread to nearby buildings, so firefighters were working to keep them from spreading further when Neary and Sweeney went into the Giamari Furniture store, which fronts on 2411 Kensington Ave.
Neary and Sweeney were in the Giamari building with firefighters Francis Chaney II, also of Ladder 10, and Patrick Nally of Ladder 16 when it collapsed. Chaney and Nally were injured.
Neary, a lieutenant since 1983, had four unit citations and had served in many of the department’s companies, according to Bill Gault, president of the firefighters’ union Local 22. He had been a police officer for three years before joining the Fire Department and had been an Army reservist for 10 years.
Neary, of Gaston Lane in Somerton, is survived by his mother, Virginia; his wife, Diane, and their three children, Robert, Christopher and Dianne, and two grandchildren. Besides the Friday viewing, there were private services on Saturday. Burial, too, was private.
Gault said Sweeney, of Fuller Street in Fox Chase, had followed in his father’s footsteps when he joined the department in 2006. He had two unit citations. He had been at Ladder 10 since 2006.
Sweeney’s viewing was Friday evening and Saturday morning. Burial in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Cheltenham followed 11 a.m. Saturday services in St. Cecilia’s Church. Sweeney is survived by his mother, Marian, his father, David, sisters Suzanne, Sarah and Deborah, and his grandmother, Mary Sweeney.
“Robert Neary and Daniel Sweeney were generations removed from one another, the old guard and the new guard of the Philadelphia Fire Department,” said Gault. “Yet both shared the same characteristics that can be found in the DNA of every firefighter — fearlessness, compassion, loyalty, valor and a call to duty.”
Chaney was treated for his injuries and released. Nally remains hospitalized.
The investigation into the cause of the fire at 1817 E. York St. is ongoing. Fire officials last week said they didn’t expect any determination for weeks.
On Tuesday, the district attorney’s office announced the investigation into the fire is being submitted to the Philadelphia County Investigating Grand Jury.
The Buck building at York and Jasper streets had been vacant for decades, according to City Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez (D-7th dist.) She said neighbors were happy when a New York-based company purchased the property in 2009 because there were plans to put in 81 apartments.
The property is about a block away from the intersection of Kensington Avenue, York Street and Front Street. There is an El stop and a Free Library branch also about a block west. Plans to develop the building stagnated as unpaid taxes mounted up.
According to Mark McDonald, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter, the building’s owners, identified by other media outlets as Michael, Yechiel and Nahman Lichtenstein of New York, owe the city more than $59,000 in taxes, penalties and interest as well as $13,000 in unpaid water bills on the York Street property.
They own more than 30 other properties in the city, McDonald said.
A day after the two firefighters were laid to rest, about 150 neighbors came together to conduct a memorial tribute to the fallen men.
“Tonight is, above all, a message to the families,” Jeff Carpineta, president of the East Kensington Neighbors Association, told about 150 neighbors who held lighted candles. “There is love here in this neighborhood and there is deep gratitude.”
Carpineta said the hardest work is yet ahead for the community if neighbors hope to make a difference by pushing for solutions to decaying, vacant buildings and the safety problems they pose. He said it is now up to the community to step up by asking questions of those in city government and of one another.
He urged residents to spend some time at the Ladder 10 firehouse and let the firefighters know how much they are valued. Carpineta said the safety risks posed by old and vacant buildings can scar a community if something goes wrong.
“When this category of a building burns,” Carpineta said, “it inflicts massive damage on a neighborhood. It destroys parts of our history, part of our soul, and it damages our infrastructure.”
He noted that the fire at the Buck building wasn’t an isolated incident. The former Edison High School building at Seventh Street and Lehigh Avenue burned down last August, he noted.
“The [fact is], they will burn, one by one,” Carpineta said.
However, Carpineta added, simply fighting with City Hall about problem properties could provoke a boxing match between the community and the city that would not be helpful. Instead, he said, it is time for conversation and healing, and to be thankful that more lives weren’t lost.
“As horrific as it was,” he said, “it could have been ten times worse.” ••
How to help …
The families of Lt. Robert Neary and Firefighter Daniel Sweeney have requested that memorial donations be made to charity. Neary’s family requests contributions to the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 22 Widow’s Fund. Sweeney’s family has asked for contributions in Sweeney’s name to be made to any charity.
Information on the Local 22 Widow’s Fund can be obtained from the union’s headquarters at 415 N. Fifth St., Philadelphia, PA 19123. The telephone number is 215-440-4400EndFragment EndFragment