By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A new mural honors the memories of two hometown heroes who died fighting a five-alarm warehouse fire in East Kensington in 2012.
The smiling visages of Lt. Robert Neary and firefighter Daniel Sweeney sit on the second-story wall of the “Unsung Heroes” gallery, on East Arizona Street, gazing at the gutted warehouse at Front and York Streets where they gave their lives on a cold Monday morning, the day after Easter (see related story).
“Of all people, they understand how precious every living thing is,” said Jesse Gardner of the Unsung Heroes Project, who helped create the painting of the fallen heroes.
The men’s portraits sit one on top of the other. They’re dressed in their firefighting gear, and the painting includes pillars and monument columns on both sides of each picture to honor all first responders who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
“Every time I hear a fire engine go by, I think of my husband,” said Diane Neary to the dozens assembled for today’s dedication.
She and the Sweeney family helped breathe life into the mural. Neary says the process helped her heal from the loss of her beloved husband.
“He’s sitting at the table in heaven, assisting those that are down here, still fighting fires,” she says.
“I never thought it would happen,” said Margaret Sweeney, mother of firefighter Daniel Sweeney. “It’s bittersweet.”
Jane Golden, executive director of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, said this mural is a small tribute to the monumental sacrifice made not only by these two men but by many others.
“Murals treat people as heroes,” Golden said today. “They say to people, ‘Your life counts.’ Let this mural live on as a message to say, ‘Your lives will never be forgotten.’ ”