A city in mourning

Hon­or­ing the fallen: The fam­il­ies of Mi­chael Good­win, Robert Neary and Daniel Sweeney, all North­east fire­fight­ers killed in the line of duty, gath­er at City Hall for a me­mori­al ce­re­mony on April 9.

It’s not just an­oth­er empty lot in Kens­ing­ton where such sights are com­mon. The trash-littered par­cel, which had been the long-va­cant Buck Ho­siery build­ing and an ad­ja­cent fur­niture store, is a shrine.

A year ago Tues­day, Fire Lt. Robert Neary and fire­fight­er Daniel Sweeney, two of the city’s best and bravest, per­ished in a fire at the site. The com­mem­or­a­tion of their tra­gic deaths was made even more poignant by the week­end death of an­oth­er fire­fight­er, 53-year-old Capt. Mi­chael Good­win. 

All three men lived in the North­east.

In a low-key ce­re­mony, men and wo­men in the dark blue uni­forms of the Fire De­part­ment lined up late Tues­day morn­ing to sa­lute Neary and Sweeney and their fam­il­ies. Quietly, a wreath was presen­ted, and roses were placed on a spot­less white cloth held down against a strong breeze by bricks left over from the now de­mol­ished build­ings.

“Thank you for caring so much,” said a tear­ful Di­ane Neary, wid­ow of the fallen lieu­ten­ant as she looked at the scores of fire­fight­ers and para­med­ics lined up in front of her and Sweeney’s fath­er and moth­er, Dav­id and Mari­an. “I love all you guys.”

Neary and Sweeney were from Lad­der 10 on Kens­ing­ton Av­en­ue. Fire­fight­er Fran­cis Chaney II, also of Lad­der 10, and Fire­fight­er Patrick Nally of Lad­der 16, were in­jured in the blaze.

The men had been among the fire­fight­ers who were called to the scene to battle the 3:13 a.m. five-alarm fire in the six-story Buck Ho­siery build­ing on the 1800 block of York St.

Be­cause of the in­tens­ity of the fire and high winds, flames had spread to nearby build­ings. Neary, Sweeney, Chaney and Nally were work­ing to con­tain flare-ups in­side the ad­ja­cent Giamari Fur­niture Store, at Bo­ston Street and Kens­ing­ton Av­en­ue, when that build­ing col­lapsed.

“May your thoughts for that day,” Mrs. Neary said, chok­ing back tears, “may God erase them gently.”

The gath­er­ing at the site of the men’s deaths was much more an in-house and fam­ily event than the very pub­lic and very crowded ce­re­mony out­side City Hall less than an hour later to hon­or Good­win, Sweeney and Neary.

Daniel Sweeney’s moth­er, Mari­an, said her fam­ily didn’t just lose a son last year. 

“We’ve lost one of my ba­bies, and a mom should not lose a baby,” she said. “He was 25 years old.”

Mari­an Sweeney said she and her hus­band struggle to go on “as we look around the house and there’s something miss­ing.”

Di­ane Neary ad­dressed the fire­fight­ers and city of­fi­cials, ex­press­ing bit­ter­ness mixed with sor­row. 

“I don’t know how many more of these gen­tle­men have to die,” she said. “I don’t know how many more broken hearts, fam­il­ies and broth­ers in the broth­er­hood can be broken. I don’t know when the city of Phil­adelphia will start, and stop, and think what these men de­serve. They de­serve sup­port. They de­serve not a pat on the back or some broken words. They need to be paid their full due.”

City fire­fight­ers have been work­ing without a con­tract for four years, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion of May­or Nut­ter has re­peatedly ap­pealed to the courts the bind­ing ar­bit­ra­tion that awar­ded them raises.

“Un­til it hits your own fam­ily,” Neary said, “you have no idea what it’s like to lose someone. I pray that our Fath­er in this City of Broth­erly Love — and I know he’s listen­ing — will look down, soften hearts, show com­pas­sion, break hearts that are made of stone and ig­nor­ance, and that he would hon­or every­one that’s here fairly and hon­estly. Give these men their just re­ward. … And hon­or this fel­low­ship of fire­men.”

Robert Neary was a 38-year fire de­part­ment vet­er­an. He is sur­vived by his wife and their three chil­dren, Robert, Chris­toph­er and Di­anne. Daniel Sweeney fol­lowed in the foot­steps of his fath­er, re­tired Fire Capt. Dav­id Sweeney, and joined the Phil­adelphia Fire De­part­ment in Ju­ly 2006. Good­win, a 29-year vet­er­an, is sur­vived by his wife, Kelly, a son, Mike Jr., and a daugh­ter, Dorothy Dunn. His fam­ily also at­ten­ded the wreath-lay­ing ce­re­mony at City Hall. ••


To view video of the fam­ily and friends of Fire Capt. Mi­chael Good­win ad­dress­ing the pub­lic, vis­it the North­east Times You­Tube site at www.you­tube.com/user/North­east­Times ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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