"It's a devastating loss for us," Capt. Dennis Merrigan said. "He was the guy we could turn to."
Lt. Robert Neary, 60, of Somerton, died Monday morning while fighting an East Kensington furniture-store fire ignited by a nearby five-alarm blaze. He leaves behind his wife, Diane, and three children.
Neary, awarded four citations during his 38-year career, rescued occupants in a South Philly apartment fire in 1981 and saved a pregnant woman from a fire in 2000, said Everett Gillison, Mayor Nutter's chief of staff.
That's why Merrigan, who previously had worked with Neary at Engine 52, was excited to learn a couple of years ago that they'd be reunited at Ladder 10.
"I was relieved to know he was going to be one of my officers again because of his professionalism and absolute dedication to the job and to the members," Merrigan said. "The way he was always on top of his game, I knew I never had to worry about his platoon."
After nearly four decades of service, Neary recently had been considering hanging up his helmet.
"He was thinking about his future, and life after the Fire Department, spending time with his family," Merrigan said.
Neary was a skilled firefighter, but he wasn't content simply to share his tactics and strategy, even as he got older. Sitting on the sidelines - or at a desk - wasn't his style.
"Bob could've worked in a lot of different parts of the city, but he chose to work here where it's busy," Merrigan said. "He was right in the thick of things, and that's where he wanted to be. He didn't want a desk job or an administration job; he wanted to be out in the field."
"He chose to stay a company officer because he could relate to the fellas in the firehouse," he said. "He was always there on the fire ground."
Contact William Bender at 215-854-5255 or email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @wbender99.