It was a gray and overcast Wednesday when city officials joined police and fire officials - as well as hundreds of emergency responders - in a somber event at the Living Flame Memorial in Franklin Square, at 6th and Race streets.
The annual event, which took place on May 2 this year, honors all police firefighters and emergency responders who have died in service to the city.
Just two days prior to last Wednesday’s memorial, the names of Lt. Robert Neary and Daniel Sweeney – firefighters from Kensington’s Ladder 10, who died fighting the fire that tore through the Thomas H. Buck Hosiery building at York and Jasper streets on April 9 – joined the nearly 500 names of the men and women memorialized there.
During the day, Everett Gillison, deputy mayor of public safety and Mayor Michael Nutter’s chief of staff, said that the memorial intended to remember all police officers and firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
However, he also mentioned that this year’s memorial was “touched by the recent deaths” of Neary and Sweeney.
Gillison said both men had received citations in the past, “all of them for saving the lives of trapped people” in burning buildings.
“The biggest tribute we can give them is to live as they would,” said Gillison.
Lloyd Ayers, the city’s fire commissioner, said that while everyone at the event was connected to someone whose name is etched on the Living Flame Memorial, those in attendance were not solely tied together through tragedy.
“We all stand here connected, not by their deaths, but by the productivity and power in their lives,” he said. “The heroes who lost their lives in the line of duty aren’t to be remembered by the numbers surrounding their deaths…They aren’t to be remembered by the statistics surrounding their deaths…They are to be remembered by the selfless acts they did on and off duty.”
In his remarks to the gathered crowd, Mayor Nutter specifically addressed the relatives of Sweeney and Neary, who were in attendance.
“We owe them a debt of gratitude that can never be fully repaid,” he said of the two fallen firefighters. “It’s not how they died, but how they lived that made them heroes…Here is where their service is remembered. Here is where their sacrifice is honored.”
During the service, representatives from a variety of law enforcement and fire service agencies throughout the region placed flower wreaths at the base of the Living Flame Memorial, while friends and families of fallen police officers and firefighters took the time to read the names of their loved ones etched into plaques.
Each family member left a flower in memory of their loved one.
At the end of the event Dianne Neary, wife of the fallen man who served as a fireman for 37 years, took a moment to speak to gathered reporters about what the day meant to her and her family.
Calling the loss of her husband “extremely tragic,” Neary’s widow said that she hoped the devastating events that took the lives of her husband and Sweeney would help the city to realize the importance firefighters’ work.
“I hope that the city will help them in any way that they can, so that they can do their job safer, so that they can go home to their families,” she said. “I now will have to go home with just memories of my husband.”
Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org.