Final goodbyes for fallen Philadelphia firefighters

April 18, 2012 1:31:53 PM PDT
It has been a solemn weekend across the city as thousands of people lined up to pay respects to two of Philadelphia's finest.

Long lines flanked the doors of St. Cecilia's Roman Catholic Church in Fox Chase Saturday morning as family, friends and strangers waited to get in for the viewing of 25-year-old Daniel Sweeney.

Sweeney's co-workers from Ladder Company 10 lowered his casket from Engine 7 and carried it inside for his final viewing and funeral Mass.

25-year-old Sweeney was killed along with 60-year-old Lieutenant Robert Neary, when they were caught in a building collapse after Monday's five-alarm fire in Kensington.

Two other firefighters were rescued in the blaze and one of them remains hospitalized.

Deputy Chief Derrick Sawyer, who taught Sweeney at the Fire Academy, recalled him as a young man who excelled in his training, and loved his job, despite knowing the risks.

"We remind them every single day you're putting your life on the line. It's not like a regular job where you go to work and you know you're coming home," said Sawyer.

Assistant Deputy Chief Ken McMullen from the Calgary Fire Department travelled all the way from Canada to pay respects.

"It really is about the family atmosphere. It's about understanding that despite the fact we didn't know these firefighters personally, it's a family. It's a situation where we have no choice but to show our respects to this community," said McMullen.

Due to the large number of mourners, a jumbo-tron was set up outside the church so all could watch the funeral service.

Speakers included Mayor Michael Nutter and Archbishop Charles Chaput.

Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers recalled the day he and Sweeney's father David, a retired firefighter, attended Daniel's swearing in.

"I remember that morning when we swore Daniel in - taking those pictures and just looking at him beaming," said Ayers.

It was the words of Sweeney's mother, Marian, that most moved the crowd.

She recalled her hockey-playing son, who once fixed his own knocked out tooth and who, although not a regular church-goer, held a deep sense of faith.

"I thank you for your prayers and I know there will be many of them. You have to pray for Daniel, because I know he's with God and we commend him to God. Please keep us in your prayers," said Marian.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Sweeney's flag-draped coffin was loaded onto Engine 7 for one final ride.

His body was taken to Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Cheltenham, where he was laid to rest.

Another viewing will be held for Lt. Neary from 5:00 - 8:00 pm at Givnish Funeral Home.