Memorial service for firefighters killed in Kensington warehouse blaze

Mayor Nutter presents a flag to firefighter Dennis Merrigan, captain of Ladder 10, during a memorial service for Lt. Daniel Sweeney and Capt. Robert NearyDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Mayor Nutter presents a flag to firefighter Dennis Merrigan, captain of Ladder 10, during a memorial service for Lt. Daniel Sweeney and Capt. Robert NearyDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Posted: June 07, 2012

Almost two months after a Kensington fire claimed the lives of two Philadelphia firefighters, family members and the firefighter community are still searching for answers.

"We come today trying to — still trying to — understand the why. And, for me at least, the most frustrating part of that is trying to know or understand what you cannot know or understand," Mayor Nutter said during an all-faiths gathering for fallen firefighters Capt. Robert Neary and Lt. Daniel Sweeney on Wednesday morning.

About 60 people, including the Sweeney and Neary families and a dozen religious leaders, attended the memorial service at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. It was organized through the Mayor's Office, the Fire Department, and the Religious Leaders Council of Greater Philadelphia.

Neary, 59, and Sweeney, 25, of Ladder 10, became trapped under a fallen wall while at the scene of a five-alarm blaze in an empty factory building April 9. Neary had served in the department for 37 years. Sweeney joined in 2006, following his father, the recently retired Capt. David Sweeney.

The investigation into the fire itself, as well as dealing with the property owners who have been accused of allowing the site to fall into disrepair and failing to pay taxes, is being handled in "due course," Nutter said outside the service.

In addition to Nutter, Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers and William Gault, president of Philadelphia's Fire Fighters and Paramedics Union, spoke at the hour-long service. Ayers said that the deaths of Neary and Sweeney were something the community was struggling to understand, but that healing would come through the support of all faiths and the community.

"We look to heal as friends, as coworkers. We look to heal our bodies, we look to heal the organization, we look to heal mistakes. We look to heal all of those things and move forward," Ayers said.

Gault said the grieving process would last at least until there is an understanding of exactly why the deaths occurred. He spoke candidly of talking on the phone with Sweeney's wife, Dianne, and hearing her break down crying.

"We want to stand by them, to help them understand exactly why this happened," Gault said. "And we want that because only then can we turn that corner."

Contact Dara McBride at 215-854-5626 or dmcbride@philly.com.

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