Fox Chase residents fight for Dan Sweeney memorial

Dan Sweeney
Dan Sweeney was killed in the line of duty as a firefighter a year ago this month.

Fox Chase may find space on the neighborhood playground for both of its departed sons’ names.

One of the five diamonds at the lower fields of Fox Chase Playground in the Northeast Philly neighborhood will be dedicated to Dan Sweeney on June 23.

April 9 is the one-year anniversary of Sweeney’s death. He and Lt. Robert Neary were killed after a wall collapsed at a Kensington fire last year.

Fox Chase residents knew there was a precedent of naming city recreation centers after officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.

“And we just thought it would be a way to honor our neighborhood hero,” said Bob McHugh, whose lobbied for the renaming. “That was our goal: to keep his name alive in the neighborhood. And honor him for his sacrifice.”

Unfortunately, not everyone was on board.

The original plan was to rename the entire lower field complex, which consists of five fields, in Danny’s name. Opposition grew. Some claimed the memorial would dilute the Eddie Polec memorial.

Polec was murdered on the steps of St. Cecilia’s Church in 1993. The bruise-colored rec center was named in his honor in 1995.

Some residents cried, “What next?”

Change the name of the library? The school? The neighborhood?

People tore Sweeney Field fliers. They stole signed petitions.

“They used Eddie Polec as an excuse,” McHugh said, “And used other people that have died as an excuse. … They didn’t necessarily want it named for anybody else, but they didn’t want it changed.”

McHugh said a long-time rec employee was asked to help. McHugh was told, “Hey, if you’re getting fields named, how about getting Field 1 named for me. I raked and worked on that field for years and if it should be named for anybody, it should be named for me.”

Another person said: “Do you know how many years I sold hot dogs in the snack stand? Why don’t they name a field for me?”

Mrs. Sweeney sold hot dogs. Mr. Sweeney coached. Danny played.

“This is a slap in the face,” McHugh said.

Diamond at Fox Chase rec center
Diamond at Fox Chase rec center

An online petition at Change.org against Sweeney Field has about 150 signatures. A petition in favor of the honor garnered the maximum of 2,500.

Bill Gault, president of Fire Fighters Local 22, said any honor to Sweeney has the union’s full support.

“We do not wish to engage in any neighborhood debates about the best location for a memorial,” he said in an email. “We wish only to see that it happens so that Daniel and his family are appropriately honored.”

It’s simple: a scoreboard or a plaque featuring Danny’s name.

“How tough would that be?” McHugh said.

Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers favors letting the community decide on the best course of action.

“We have a lot of people in the community that was for renaming the field. And as I understand it, I heard there was some folks that really didn’t want to rename it. It’s really got to be up to the community,” he said.

“I believe that the community has the right to make the decisions and if we stop and look at the community, and look at the involvement, I think then the democratic process has to prevail.”


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