Warm hearts and helping hands
— A fallen fireman's colleagues join forces to spruce up the home of his widow.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org