“Always a smile on his face.” “Would do anything for anybody.” “Embodied Christian spirit.” “More than a man of service.” “Adored his wife and daughters.” “Set the bar for altruism.”
Those were some of the words people used to describe Lt. Russell Neary, 55, president of the Easton Volunteer Fire Company, who died in the line of duty returning from a fire call during super storm Sandy. He was clearing tree debris from a roadway when another tree fell on him.
Family, friends, firefighters and first responders gathered Saturday morning at Notre Dame Church for his memorial service. Hundreds of people who didn’t fit inside listened on a loud speaker in the blustery air in front of the church.
An estimated 700 firefighters and first responders marched from the Easton Fire Department on the corner of Route 59 and Banks Road to the church on Morehouse Road, passing the Easton Town Hall and Police Department, where police officers saluted them.
Police Chief James Candee said he was grateful to the state police for directing traffic, and neighboring police departments for patrolling Easton’s streets, so the officers could participate in the service and pay their respects.
Firefighters who didn’t fit inside the church lined the street, listening to the service led by Monsignor Thomas Driscoll. It began with bagpipes, scripture reading by Fire Marshal Peter Neary and prayers. First Selectman Tom Herrmann and Lt. Neary’s brother-in-law and nephew also participated.
“He leaves a huge hole in our hearts,” his nephew, Chris Neary, said.
Fire units came from as far as Toronto and New York City with strong representation from Connecticut departments, including Monroe, Trumbull, Bridgeport, Stratford, Weston, Fairfield, New Britain, Newtown, Cheshire, Avon, Meriden and East Hartford, to name a few.
The Trumbull Fire Department brought along a ladder truck with a giant American flag mounted to it, reaching high into the air.
Governor Dannel Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes paid their respects. The governor ordered all flags in the state to fly at half-staff for the day.
“He was a good man, who loved his neighbors and will be remembered as an inspiration for a life well lived,” Gov. Malloy said as part of the service.
Tim Pelton, vice commander of the Statewide Honor Guard, said the guard had consulted with Lt. Neary’s family and the Easton Fire Department to create the most respectful line of duty death service possible.
“We let the family drive the service so we can honor their wishes with our protocols,” he said. “We are here to support them. Firefighters are a brotherhood. When one of our brothers or sisters dies in the line of duty, it’s part of our fire service family.”