Mural pays tribute to fallen firefighters

  • Bagpipers play on July 10 as friends and family gather to view a mural honoring Fire Lt. Robert Neary and Firefighter Daniel Sweeney, who died fighting a fire on the same block in 2012.

  • Widow Diane Neary hugs firefighter Pat Nally, who was injured in the same fire.

Bob Neary and Dan Sweeney are smil­ing down on Kens­ing­ton.

The im­ages of the two fire­fight­ers who lost their lives in a 2012 fire at York and Jasper streets are now part of the city­scape in a mur­al high on a wall on the 2000 block of East Ari­zona Street.

With lines of fire­fight­ers and spec­tat­ors crowded in­to the quiet side street on Ju­ly 10, the mur­al de­pict­ing Fire Lt. Robert Neary and Fire­fight­er Daniel Sweeney was ded­ic­ated as pipers played and as fam­ily talked of their lost loved ones. The two men were North­east res­id­ents. They died in the line of duty in Kens­ing­ton.

On April 9, 2012, Neary, 60, and Sweeney, 25, of Lad­der 10 went in­to a Kens­ing­ton Av­en­ue fur­niture store to knock down a fire that had spread from a lar­ger one in the old va­cant Buck Ho­siery Co. They per­ished there when a wall col­lapsed on them.

The mur­al that pays trib­ute to their sac­ri­fice was de­signed by Dav­id Mc­Shane and Jesse Gard­ner and painted by Kien Nguy­en. The funds for the mur­al were sup­plied by Al­ex­an­der Ru­bin, the city and the Un­sung Her­oes Gal­lery. 

The art­work, a couple stor­ies high, faces west on the side wall of the Un­sung Her­oes Gal­lery. Gard­ner owns the build­ing and the gal­lery. Ari­zona Street is a few short blocks from the fire site. The paint­ing was done on fab­ric after de­sign­ers were sat­is­fied the Sweeney and Neary fam­il­ies liked the pho­tos used and were happy with the art­work, Nguy­en said be­fore the ce­re­mon­ies began last week.

There is noth­ing sol­emn about the mur­al. Both men are pic­tured as smil­ing and the design and col­ors are lively.

“The mur­al is beau­ti­ful … and ne­ces­sary,” said Jeff Carpin­eta, former pres­id­ent of the East Kens­ing­ton Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation. It’s a re­mind­er, he said, of the men who save the world, one piece of the world at a time.

Joe Schulle, pres­id­ent of Loc­al 22 of the In­ter­na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Fire Fight­ers, said 285 Phil­adelphia fire­fight­ers have lost their lives in the line of duty.

“We al­ways ask why,” he said. “And the an­swers we seek nev­er come.” 

On Monday, North­east res­id­ent Richard Knellinger, 42, the own­er of Giamari’s, the fur­niture store, was sen­tenced to two years of pro­ba­tion for ly­ing to au­thor­it­ies in­vest­ig­at­ing the fire. A grand jury that looked in­to the blaze as­signed blame to the own­ers and city agen­cies, but did not re­com­mend any charges. ••

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