Firefighter: 'I was trapped'

— Though he lost two col­leagues in a ware­house blaze in April, fire­man Pat Nally is win­ning his struggle to get his life back. He knows he's one of the lucky ones.

Fire­fight­er Pat Nally goes out for some fresh air with fi­ance Kelly Mo­sca and their dog Cosmo. Pat sur­vived the ware­house fire which killed Fire Lt. Robert Neary and Fire­fight­er Daniel Sweeny in April. He is ex­pec­ted to make a full re­cov­ery. He says he feels blessed to be alive and can’t wait to go back to work and marry his fi­ance in a few weeks, Thursday, June 14, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (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 and the world came tum­bling down upon Fire­fight­ers Daniel Sweeney, Fran­cis Chaney and Nally, along with their Lad­der 10 com­pany su­per­visor, Lt. 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.

• • •

This Sat­urday, 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 with the North­east Times.

“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 don’t think I lost con­scious­ness, but if I did it was only for a couple of seconds.

“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 didn’t know if there was a base­ment and if I was go­ing to fall even more,” he said. “I was wor­ried about the oth­er guys be­cause we were all in there to­geth­er.”

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.”

• • •

Neary and Sweeney be­came the first city fire­fight­ers to die in the line of duty since Aug. 20, 2004, when Capt. John Taylor and Fire­fight­er Rey Ru­bio per­ished while bat­tling a blaze sparked by a marijuana grow­ing op­er­a­tion in the base­ment of a Port Rich­mond home.

Chaney was also hos­pit­al­ized after the re­cent fire, but he re­covered and re­turned to work with­in a month. Nally hopes to do the same someday. But there’s no telling when.

The Frank­ford nat­ive nev­er planned to be a fire­fight­er but now there’s noth­ing else he’d rather do. He gradu­ated from St. Mar­tin of Tours School, then Ro­man Cath­ol­ic High School in 2004, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of older broth­er Seamus. A young­er broth­er, Ry­an, also at­ten­ded Ro­man.

Seamus is now a Phil­adelphia po­lice of­ficer.

“I took the cop test com­ing out of high school and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. (Seamus) said I should take all of the (mu­ni­cip­al) tests. The fire de­part­ment was the first to call,” Pat Nally said. “I gave it a shot and ended up lov­ing it. I’ve been on (the job) for five-and-a-half years and hop­ing to be on for the next thirty.”

He entered the Fire Academy in Janu­ary 2007 and gradu­ated that May. He served al­most a year at Foam 18, a spe­cialty unit at Roosevelt Boulevard and Holme Av­en­ue, then got a trans­fer to the busier Lad­der 16 at Bel­grade and Hunt­ing­don streets in Fishtown.

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;e, 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.

“I’ve been get­ting cards from the sis­ters (at St. Mar­tin’s) and the cards from the kids are the best,” Nally said. “They keep telling me I was the smartest kid in the school and I say, ‘Wow! That’s the first time I’m hear­ing that.’ I guess they want me to feel bet­ter.”

He spends most of his days propped up in a hos­pit­al bed in his par­ents’ fin­ished walk-out base­ment. A nurse vis­its daily, clean­ing and dress­ing his wounds. Mo­sca, a nurse’s aide, left her job to care for him full-time.

Nally’s fourth ver­tebra in his lower back was crushed and his pel­vis frac­tured. Only time and rest can heal those in­jur­ies, he said. Whenev­er he gets out of bed, he’s sup­posed to wear a ri­gid shell on his torso to im­mob­il­ize his spine.

It re­minds him of a turtle’s shell.

“I can only be up for a couple hours,” he said.

His foot has been get­ting the most med­ic­al at­ten­tion, in­clud­ing an emer­gency sur­gery on the day of the in­jury.

“It was just to get the bones back in­to the shape of a semb­lance of a foot,” Nally said.

He nev­er found out how many frac­tures there were in the foot.

“The next sur­gery after that, they put something on it that looked like an erect­or set,” he said.

He spent nine days in the hos­pit­al.

Three weeks after the in­jury, doc­tors re­moved the ex­tern­al sta­bil­iz­ing mech­an­ism and in­ser­ted nu­mer­ous pins, plates and screws in­to his foot. He has re­gained some move­ment in his toes and ankle.

• • •

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.

Mem­bers of the Sweeney fam­ily vis­ited him at the hos­pit­al and at his par­ents’ home. On May 19, he at­ten­ded a Phil­lies game with the fam­il­ies of both fallen fire­fight­ers.

On Me­mori­al Day week­end, he threw out the first pitch of a Po­lice vs. Fire char­ity base­ball game at Liberty Bell Ath­let­ic As­so­ci­ation. Fire­fight­er Tony Dab­rowski hit the game-win­ning home run and gave the ball to Nally.

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. ••


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