Warm hearts and helping hands

— A fallen fire­man's col­leagues join forces to spruce up the home of his wid­ow.

Fire Lt. Robert Neary’s wife, Di­anne, gets help from loc­al fire­men with work around the house. Her hus­band died fight­ing a fire in April, and Di­anne says she feels blessed to be sur­roun­ded by such a sup­port­ive com­munity. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

Di­ane Neary already knew that fire­fight­ers were spe­cial people, but she was re­minded of that fact again late last month.

Neary is the wid­ow of Lt. Robert P. Neary, who died in the line of duty on April 9. Early that Monday morn­ing, he re­spon­ded to a fire at an aban­doned Kens­ing­ton ware­house. Later, he and sev­er­al oth­er men from Lad­der 10 were check­ing on con­di­tions at a fur­niture store next door when the roof col­lapsed.

Neary and fire­fight­er Daniel Sweeney were killed. Two oth­er fire­fight­ers were in­jured.

Di­ane Neary lives on Gaston Lane in Somer­ton. She and her hus­band planned to pave their drive­way be­fore he died, and she re­cently de­cided to com­plete the job.

Mrs. Neary asked fire Lt. Mike Whalen, a res­id­ent of nearby Dorothy Drive who is also her land­scaper, if he knew of any­one who did con­crete work. She wanted to give the work to a fire­fight­er to sup­ple­ment his in­come.

“The pay is OK, but not good enough to raise a fam­ily,” she said.

Whalen, who works at En­gine 58 in Somer­ton, put out a feel­er on the In­ter­na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Fire Fight­ers Loc­al 22 on­line for­um, and the re­sponse was over­whelm­ing.

“It snow­balled. All the guys said, ‘I’ll help,’ ” he said.

So, on Oct. 22 and 23, 20 or so fire­men were at the Neary home dig­ging up black­top, lay­ing ce­ment in front of a two-car gar­age, re­mov­ing fen­cing, power wash­ing the side of the house and pulling up some car­pet.

“When I saw them all out there, it really touched my heart,” Neary said. “This is all donated. I feel very, very blessed.”

In ad­di­tion to Whalen, fire­fight­ers who pitched in were Mike Fo­ley, Frank Wnek, Mark Mierze­jew­ski, Jack Duff, Bill Gil­lon, Karl Bis­pels, Craig Hue­ber, Rich Ro­mano, Fran Palmer, Mike Murphy, Bill Barkley, John Cole, Zeke DaSilva, Ray Vozelli, John Ward, Paul Mor­ris, George DelRossi Sr. and George DelRossi Jr.

Even 8-year-old George DelRossi III helped out.

As rain star­ted to fall at com­ple­tion of the job, the men put tar­paul­in over the fresh ce­ment.

Oth­ers out­side the fire de­part­ment fam­ily joined the cause. Jon Riggs, of Riggs Tree Ser­vice, re­moved trees. DiNardo Con­tract­ing donated $1,200 in ce­ment. Win­zinger Inc. agreed to dis­pose of ex­cess ma­ter­i­als for free. 

The PFD Fam­il­ies As­so­ci­ation, which is bat­tling the city on nu­mer­ous is­sues, made sure the men were well fed.

“They do so many good things for the com­munity on and off the job,” said Ther­ese Garvin, pres­id­ent of the group and wife of a fire­fight­er. “They al­ways watch out for their own. We want the pub­lic to know what good people they are. They sac­ri­fice a lot.”

Robert Neary was a po­lice of­ficer for three years be­fore em­bark­ing on a 37-plus-year ca­reer with the fire de­part­ment. He also spent time in the U.S. Army Re­serve.

Di­ane Neary said that only a se­lect group of people is will­ing to run in­to burn­ing build­ings to battle flames, smoke, tox­ins and chem­ic­als.

The off-duty vo­lun­teers were happy to be do­ing the work in an­onym­ity, but Neary wanted their ef­forts re­war­ded with a pub­lic shout-out.

“The city needs to know who these men are,” she said. “People need to know this broth­er­hood. They should be highly re­spec­ted and held in high re­gard. Their mor­ale has to be kept high.”

Neary’s hus­band is gone, but his fel­low fire­fight­ers haven’t for­got­ten him or her.

“God bless the fire­men in Phil­adelphia,” she said. ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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