About the Project
Lt. Robert Neary and FF. Daniel Sweeney of the Philadelphia Fire Department made the supreme sacrifice on the morning of Monday, April 9, 2012, at Box 361 – located at the intersection of Front & York Streets – while protecting the lives and property of East Kensington residents at the five alarm York Street Fire, which took place at the building formerly known as the Thomas Buck Hosiery Building.
The mural – designed by David McShane and Jesse Gardner, and painted by Kien Nguyen – honors their commitment and bravery. Although the mural specifically honors these two fallen heroes and depicts them in portraits that are the central focus of the mural design, the other imagery in the mural is also meant to honor all hardworking and dedicated first responders in the Philadelphia Fire Department. Around the two portraits are architectural elements that represent the buildings that housed the Kensington neighborhood’s proud history of industry and manufacturing, while at the same time the columns on either side of the portraits also represent the vital support that the Fire Department provides to protecting the buildings and lives of those in the community. This architecture is infused with friezes and insets with important details of the event and Fire Department symbols.
In the very center of the mural, on the arch between the two portraits, is a torch with the date of the fatal fire (4-9-2012) inscribed on it. To the left is a circular inset image of Ladder 10, whose company bravely fought the ferocious fire. To the left is another circular inset with the traditional symbols of the Fire Department – the ladder, nozzle, axe, pike pole, and helmet – with a contemporary yellow Ladder 10 helmet replacing the older traditional red helmets. Below this inset is inscribed “Box 361” which denotes the fire location. Above the Lieutenant’s portrait, at the top center of the mural, is an inset with the Philadelphia Fire Department’s emblem. Holding this emblem are two lions, representing the bravery of all the dedicated firefighters in the Department. The top right of the mural features a Dalmatian, symbolizing the loyalty that the men and women of the Fire Department have for the citizens they protect and for each other, and behind the dog is an American flag, symbolizing the service to which these great Americans are proudly dedicated. Dalmatians were originally used to guard and calm the horses that pulled the fire wagons before becoming firehouse mascots later in history. At the top left of the mural is a frieze of Saint Florian, the patron saint if firefighters. St. Florian was a Roman soldier who organized the first bucket brigades to extinguish fires.
At the bottom of the mural are three insets. The center one is the emblem for the Philadelphia Fire Fighters’ & Paramedics Union Local 22, which symbolizes how all the firefighters are united to support each other. Three other men from Ladder 10 served alongside Neary and Sweeney that fateful day –Joseph Steinmetz (the driver, who stayed with the Ladder 10 truck), Francis Chaney, and Patrick Nally (of Ladder 16, but who was detailed to Ladder 10 that night). Chaney and Nally were injured in the collapse that killed their two companions. FF Nally requested to be symbolized not individually, but by the Ladder 16 frontispiece (which is located to the right of the Local 22 emblem). In the same spirit of the brotherhood and closeness these men felt with their firehouse family, FFs Chaney and Steinmetz are represented by the Ladder 10 truck inset above, and all the men and women of Platoon C and the larger Battalion (that both Ladders 10 and 16 are part of) are represented by the Battalion 10 frontispiece (which is located to the left of the Union emblem).
The two featured portraits also have some specific symbols on the columns to the left and right of them. Lt. Neary’s portrait is flanked by his Lieutenant helmet frontispiece and uniform hat badge, and FF Sweeny similarly has his helmet frontispiece (with his personal # 86) and his uniform hat badge (# 4205). The laurel around the columns is a symbol of their heroicism, and the lilies are a symbol of the supreme sacrifice that these men made.