Both firefighters were respected members of the fire department and had been commended for a long list of rescues over the years, Ayers said.
Neary, a 37-year veteran of the fire department, served in the Army reserves from 1972 to 1982 and worked as a police officer before joining the fire department. He is survived by his wife, two grown sons and a grown daughter.
He was a mentor to young firefighters like Sweeney and had great instincts while fighting fires, said Timothy McShea, vice president of the firefighters union.
Sweeney, who was single, is survived by his parents. His father is recently retired fire Capt. David Sweeney.
McShea called him “a good young lad.”
The cause of the blaze was not immediately determined.
“This isn’t a landowner or property owner we couldn’t find; this is someone who had a very active interest in the property and has an active and open zoning permit for development,” Burns said. “I don’t understand, when you have a zoning permit for an 81-unit development, that you don’t understand your responsibility to have a secure property.”
The New York-based law firm Herrick, Feinstein, representing York Street Property Development, called the fire “an unspeakable tragedy.”
“Our condolences and heartfelt prayers go out to the families of Lt. Neary and Firefighter Sweeney, and to their grieving colleagues at the Philadelphia Fire Department,” attorney David Feuerstein said in a statement. “We are cooperating, and will continue to do so, with all law enforcement and government agencies as they investigate this fire.”
Everett Gillison, deputy mayor for public safety, said he will be talking to the district attorney about whether a criminal negligence prosecution is warranted.
Gillison said city officials were to meet Tuesday with attorneys for the owners, whom they identified as Nahman Lichtenstein, along with Yechiel and Michael Lichtenstein. Burns said the owners, who through York Street Property Development and another firm, were linked to perhaps 34 other properties in the city. A message left for a Philadelphia law firm officials said represented them was not returned Monday evening, nor was a message left for Nahman Lichtenstein.