Northeast Times

Firefighter Pat Nally recalls Buck Hosiery blaze

Fire­fight­er Pat Nally re­calls the night of the Buck Ho­siery fire and his fallen “broth­ers” as he re­cov­ers from in­jur­ies.

Kelly Mo­sca helps fi­ance Fire­fight­er Pat Nally with his back brace. Pat, who sur­vived the ware­house fire which killed Fire Lt. Robert Neary and Fire­fight­er Daniel Sweeny in April, was re­leased from the hos­pit­al and is re­cov­er­ing in his par­ents’ home. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

The fallen bricks and beams of a burnt-out Kens­ing­ton ware­house were pin­ning fire­fight­er Pat Nally to the floor of a neigh­bor­ing fur­niture store. A per­sist­ent ringing in his ears was the only noise to in­ter­rupt an eer­ie si­lence.

Nally was in ex­cru­ci­at­ing pain with a broken back and bus­ted pel­vis. His right foot was trapped be­neath tons of rubble. He tried to wiggle free, but the weight and the pain were too much to bear.

“I just re­mem­ber go­ing down, (be­ing) over­whelmed with weight and that just tak­ing me down to the ground,” said Nally. “I couldn’t even see or turn. I tried get­ting my­self up, but I was trapped.”

One mo­ment, he and three col­leagues were in­vest­ig­at­ing the in­teri­or of the fire-dam­aged fur­niture store. It was 5:56 a.m. on April 9 at Bo­ston and Jasper streets. They were check­ing for flare-ups from an earli­er five-alarm blaze that had gut­ted the Thomas W. Buck Ho­siery ware­house next door, Fire Com­mis­sion­er Lloyd Ay­ers later said.

In an in­stant, the ware­house came tum­bling down upon Fire­fight­ers Daniel Sweeney, Fran­cis Chaney and Nally, along with their Lad­der 10 com­pany su­per­visor, Lieu­ten­ant Robert P. Neary. A brick wall tumbled onto the fur­niture store roof, caus­ing it to col­lapse onto the men.

Neary, 60, and Sweeney, 25, died be­fore frantic res­cuers were able to pull them from the debris. Nally, 25, and Chaney, 43, sur­vived. Now, Nally is star­ing at count­less months of re­cov­ery and a life­time of sad­ness for his fallen fire de­part­ment broth­ers.

On Sat­urday, June 23, Nally will take part in a block party hon­or­ing Neary and Sweeney, while rais­ing money for a new Liv­ing Flame Me­mori­al in the city’s Frank­lin Square. The event will be from 2 to 6 p.m. at Mag­gie’s Wa­ter­front Caf&ea­cute;, 9242 N. Delaware Ave., and fea­ture mu­sic, food, re­fresh­ments and fam­ily-friendly activ­it­ies. Ad­mis­sion costs $25.

The cause of the fire re­mains un­der in­vest­ig­a­tion. A loc­al grand jury has been con­vened to probe pos­sible crim­in­al wrong­do­ing con­nec­ted with the fire. Nally is ex­pec­ted to be a key wit­ness and is not per­mit­ted to dis­cuss de­tails of the fire or his de­part­ment’s re­sponse to it. Yet, the fire ad­min­is­tra­tion has per­mit­ted Nally to dis­cuss his in­jur­ies and re­cov­ery.

“I def­in­itely didn’t see it com­ing. I was shell-shocked. It was a ringing in my ears and con­fu­sion,” Nally said dur­ing an in­ter­view on June 12.

“I was just really con­fused. I just re­mem­ber hear­ing guys’ voices yelling for me and feel­ing some sense of re­lief they were go­ing to come and get me.”

In the am­bi­ent early-morn­ing light, Nally spot­ted a fire hel­met on the floor with­in arm’s reach, grabbed it and placed it on his head.

“I didn’t know how much more was com­ing. So many thoughts were run­ning through my mind. I was wor­ried about the oth­er guys be­cause we were all in there to­geth­er,” he said.

The next few hours are now a blur in Nally’s memory. Ac­cord­ing to fire de­part­ment re­cords, he was freed at 6:22 a.m.

He re­mem­bers the in­jured Chaney, along with mem­bers of Lad­der 16 and Res­cue 1 help­ing to free him and bring him to safety. Para­med­ics rushed him to Temple Uni­versity Hos­pit­al, where he was sta­bil­ized and sed­ated. A while later, he learned about Neary and Sweeney.

“I don’t re­mem­ber if I heard people cry­ing out­side. I think they had got­ten Lieu­ten­ant Neary out (of the build­ing). I asked a nurse how he was do­ing and she said he passed away and I star­ted cry­ing,” Nally re­called. “I asked about Danny Sweeney and she said they were still try­ing to get him out and I had a bad feel­ing.”

The Frank­ford nat­ive nev­er planned to be a fire­fight­er but now there’s noth­ing else he’d rather do.

“I’ve been on (the job) for five-and-a-half years and hop­ing to be on for the next thirty,” he said.

On the night of the fatal fire, he was cov­er­ing a shift for Lad­der 10 at Kens­ing­ton and Castor av­en­ues.

A few years ago, he and his fianc&ea­cute;, Kelly Mo­sca, bought a house in West May­fair. They are plan­ning a Ju­ly 6 wed­ding and re­fuse to post­pone it, “wheth­er I’m in a wheel­chair or she has to carry me,” Nally said.

The couple stays with Nally’s par­ents in East Tor­res­dale while he con­tin­ues his slow but steady re­cov­ery.

Nally’s fourth ver­tebra in his lower back was crushed and his pel­vis frac­tured. Only time and rest can heal those in­jur­ies, he said.

En­cour­age­ment has come from many sources. On the day of Neary’s fu­ner­al, Nally spoke with Neary’s wid­ow, Di­ane, by tele­phone to apo­lo­gize for not be­ing able to at­tend.

“I just re­mem­ber her be­ing so strong and telling me just to worry about get­ting my­self bet­ter,” he said.

Nally is thank­ful for the count­less “well-wishes and pray­ers and flowers” he has re­ceived. Any di­ver­sion helps him to cope with the emo­tion­al roller­coast­er.

“I think about, ‘Why did I make it? Could I have done any­thing dif­fer­ent?’ It’s sad­ness and an­ger. There’s a lot of time to think. Not a day passes that I’m not back on Bo­ston Street with those guys,” he said.

Then he re­minds him­self how blessed he is to have a lov­ing fam­ily and friends, and how im­port­ant it is for him to per­petu­ate the legacies of Neary, Sweeney and all fallen fire­fight­ers.

“It’s ex­tremely im­port­ant to hon­or those guys, Danny Sweeney and Robert Neary, be­cause they did pay the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice do­ing a job they loved to do, help­ing people and sav­ing lives,” Nally said. ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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