Philadelphia mourns the April 6 death of Fire Capt. Michael Goodwin, who spent much of his career serving the River Wards. The city also remembers the loss of Lt. Robert Neary and firefighter Daniel Sweeney, who died in Kensington’s Buck Hosiery Factory blaze on April 9, 2012.
Outside fire stations across the city, flags are at half-staff and black bunting is hung in remembrance of one of the Philadelphia Fire Department’s greatest — Fire Capt. Michael Goodwin, who perished while battling a three-alarm blaze in a Queen Village fabric store on the night of Saturday, April 6.
According to fire department officials, Goodwin, 53, was on the roof of the burning shop when it collapsed and he became trapped in the rubble.
Goodwin, a husband and father of two, lived in the Parkwood section of the Northeast, but grew up near Cumberland Street and Trenton Avenue, graduated from Mastbaum Tech, remained active in St. Michael’s Lutheran Church and spent much of his career as a member of Ladder 16 at Belgrade and Huntingdon streets.
On Tuesday, April 9, hundreds of motorcyclists congregated in the parking lot of Lowe’s at Aramingo Avenue and Butler Street for an “honor ride” to Engine 53, Ladder 27 at Fourth and Snyder Streets in South Philly.
At 7:30 p.m., engines roaring, hundreds of motorcyclists from police, fire, veterans’, and other law enforcement-supporting motorcycle clubs started rolling out onto Aramingo Avenue and continued down to South Philly in rememberance of Goodwin, a 29-year veteran.
Goodwin was in command of Ladder 27 on Saturday when fire broke out at the Jack B. Fabrics store, on the 700 block of S. Fourth St., shortly after 5:30 p.m. The first arriving firefighters observed thick smoke on the first two floors of the three-story building, Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said.
A second alarm was struck at 6:04 p.m. A short time later, Goodwin was on the roof when it collapsed to the floor below. A third alarm was struck at 6:30 p.m. Goodwin died at the scene. He is survived by his wife Kelly, his adult daughter, Dorothy Dunn, his adult son, Michael Jr., two grandchildren, his mother Elizabeth, three siblings and numerous other relatives.
Goodwin was posthumously promoted to battalion chief.
“My father, Chief Mike Goodwin, served the citizens of Philadelphia for 29 years as a dedicated firefighter,” said Mike Jr., 26, in a public statement on behalf of the family at a news conference April 8. “He was also a devoted husband, father and grandfather. … He would help out anybody he could. It didn’t matter who you were, he would run into that building and pull you out.”
Goodwin was laid to rest following a funeral service April 11 at St. Michael’s Chuch, 2139 E. Cumberland St.
Hundreds of firefighters from throughout the tri-state region and across the nation joined Goodwin’s relatives and friends, along with Mayor Michael
Nutter and many other city officials, at the Kensington church to celebrate the life of the man known for his unwavering dedication to family, the fire department and God.
The understated red brick house of worship wasn’t large enough to contain the assembly, so mourners lined the surrounding streets, saluting the fire truck that carried Goodwin’s American flag-draped casket to the service. Many of those who remained outside the church watched the service on a large video screen.
Goodwin was president of the church council at St. Michael’s when the Rev. Marjorie Neal arrived as pastor nine years ago. Others assumed the role in recent years, but Goodwin held the position again at the time of his death.
“Every Sunday when he wasn’t at work, he was here at church, worshipping and serving,” Neal said in her inspirational and poignant homily. “[Goodwin] was truly a servant-leader, following the example of the Lord.”
“Mike was council president, so he was involved in all of it,” St. Michael’s member Bob Crane said, noting the church’s numerous community outreach efforts, including a food bank and after-school program for kids. “I don’t know how we’re going to make it without him.”
“He was always a fun guy to work with,” said Firefighter Richard Porter, who works at Ladder 14 in the city’s Strawberry Mansion section, where Goodwin worked in the early 1990s. “It was a great time in the fire department. We had a great group of guys who got together and stayed together. We socialized off the job and it was like a family.”
Goodwin had a serious side too, and never hesitated to speak his mind when he felt that something was amiss.
“He would never bite his tongue, [but] he did it in a respectful way,” Porter said.
Perhaps taking her cue from Goodwin, Neal, in the midst of her sermon, called upon Nutter to end the city’s four-year contract dispute with its firefighters union. Mourners inside and outside the church responded with a 30-second round of applause.
Goodwin served several years in the U.S. Navy, but he seemed destined to become a firefighter from a young age. A longtime church member told Neal how curiosity got the best of a 6-year-old Goodwin and he intentionally tripped a street-corner fire alarm in his old neighborhood, just to see what would happen.
Fire trucks rushed to the scene as Goodwin fled and thought he had eluded trouble. But then word got back to his grandfather that Goodwin was responsible for the false alarm.
“Back in those days, there were little old ladies who looked out their second-floor windows,” Neal said. “His grandfather marched him to the firehouse and he spent the next two weeks sweeping the floors.”
Goodwin’s fellow church members expressed their pain at his death.
“Whenever there was a report about a fire and there was an injury or death, my first thoughts were, ‘I wonder if Mike knew that guy,’ “ said Sue Campbell, a lifelong St. Michael’s member. “Then [this time] I learned it was him.”
“It was devastating,” said church member Jackie Sarge.
Following the service, Goodwin’s body was taken to Hillside Cemetery in Roslyn for burial.
Last week, the city also remembered two other hero firefighters.
A year ago April 9, Fire Lt. Robert Neary and Firefighter Daniel Sweeney perished in a fire at the vacant Buck Hosiery Factory in Kensington at York and Jasper streets.
In a low-key ceremony at the site of the former factory, 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.
“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.
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.
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 since 2009, 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.
Locals from Fishtown and Kensington also raised money to provide a special breakfast, along with hot sandwiches donated from Memphis Market, 2327 E. Huntingdon St., on April 9 to the firefighters currently working at Ladder 10.
The Goodwin family asks that all gifts be made to the Firefighter Widows Fund, c/o Local 22, 415 N. Fifth St., Philadelphia, PA 19123.
Direct any comments or questions to Managing Editor Mikala Jamison at 215-354-3113 or firstname.lastname@example.org. ••