Firefighters come together for one of their own

When Diane Neary asked for help with her driveway, she didn't expect 30 firefighters to her rescue.
When Diane Neary asked for help with her driveway, she didn't expect 30 firefighters to her rescue. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff)
Posted: October 25, 2012

All Diane Neary wanted was someone to repave her driveway.

So the widow of Lt. Robert Neary - one of two Philadelphia firefighters who died in the five-alarm fire at a Kensington warehouse in April – asked her neighbor Mike Whalen, who's also on the force, to ask around.

Many firefighters do contracting or construction jobs on the side to make extra money, and so Whalen sent out a request on a department forum, asking if anyone wanted to take the job.

On Monday, 30 firefighters showed up at Neary's Northeast Philadelphia house. And what started as a driveway job turned into a series of house fix-its. Remove the old fence in front of the house? They did it within an hour. Fix a leak inside? Of course, they said.

And all of them refused to accept any payment for nearly $1,200 worth of repairs.

The firefighters carefully smoothing concrete on Neary's driveway during a second day of housework on Tuesday afternoon said they were simply taking care of their own.

"I didn't think it would be this big - I didn't think people would work for free," Whalen said. "But Bob would be here for somebody else if the roles were reversed."

Bill Gillon, a firefighter who lives down the street from Diane Neary, helped pull a tarp over the driveway.

He used to walk his dog with Lt. Neary and recalled him as a fastidious, quiet man who turned in impeccable reports on the job and treated his bosses and those he supervised with the same respect.

The fire department's Family Association was on hand with pizzas and soft pretzels for the firefighters - who, they said, were giving up overtime hours to work on the Neary house.

"Diane said she was willing to pay, but Bob entrusted his firefighters to take care of her," said Therese Garvin, the association president.

Diane Neary, standing across the street from her house as a light rain fell, said she "wanted the public to know about the love in this department."

She and her husband, who was 60, lived in the house for 24 years. They were looking forward to his retirement when they planned to fix it up. After his death, she thought about leaving the city, she said, but decided to stay for her friends and the fire department.

"This is a family I didn't know I had," she said.

Contact Aubrey Whelan

at 215-854-2771 or at, or follow @aubreyjwhelan on Twitter.

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