The mourning after

— Hun­dreds turn out dur­ing ser­vices in trib­ute to fire­fight­ers Robert Neary and Daniel Sweeney, who died while bat­tling an April 9 blaze in Kens­ing­ton.

The crowd gath­ers for the fu­ner­al view­ing of Fire Lt. Robert Neary at Gavn­ish Fu­ner­al Home. Lt. Neary was killed on Monday after a five-alarm fire spread from a ware­house to an ad­ja­cent build­ing, which even­tu­ally col­lapsed in Kens­ing­ton, Fri­day, April 13, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)


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 215-440-4400

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