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Mural pays tribute to fallen firefighters

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. ••

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.

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