Northeast Times

Remembering heroes

The fam­il­ies of Mi­chael Good­win, Robert Neary and Daniel Sweeney, all fire­fight­ers killed in the line of duty, gathered at City Hill for a me­mori­al ser­vice on April 9. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / STAR PHOTO

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 mjam­is­on@bsmphilly.com. ••

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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