EASTON — Notre Dame Catholic Church was bursting at the seams Saturday morning as well-over 1,000 people came from all over Connecticut to honor the life of Russell Neary, 55, an Easton volunteer firefighter who died returning from a structure fire call on Monday night when the powerful winds of Hurricane Sandy sent a tree crashing down on him on Judd Road.
State Police detoured and directed traffic to the Samuel Staples Elementary School parking lot on Morehouse Road and shuttle buses brought mourners to the church down the street. A large crowd listened to the funeral Mass outside where speakers were set up.
Firefighters from all over the state, including all three Monroe companies, Fairfield, Westport, Weston, Trumbull, Danbury, Stamford, Newtown and some even as far away as Burlington, Canton, New Britian and South Windsor — to name just a few, came to pay their respects.
Emergency Medical Services personnel and police officers from Easton, Monroe and other surrounding towns also attended the service, which the Connecticut Honor Guard helped to organize.
Among the dignitaries at the Mass were Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Congressman Jim Himes and Easton First Selectman Thomas Herrmann.
Russell Neary was married to Maryanne, his wife of 25 years, and the couple had two daughters, Cara and Caitlin.
The following are some of the things people said about Neary and his life:
"He loved the comraderie. He loved the band of brothers that they were and he would answer the call. And when that call came on Monday during the storm, Russell answered that call. It was in his blood. No one could have stopped him from going. He wouldn't have been the Russell we knew if he stayed home and didn't go. It was really who he was. You had a better chance of stopping the tides from rising or keeping the Earth from spinning than keeping Russell home. And Russell died helping others. That was his passion: Helping others." — Michael Faley, brother-in-law
"This good man loved his neighbors. He found ways to contribute and to protect, and it is in that role that he actually gave his life. This is a sad day for family and friends and loved ones. But from this day, we all must take that great inspiration that he represented. In fact, that all people who are first responders or found ways to give back in their own way to their community actually bring. This was a life of inspiration. This was a life well led. And this is a life that we will remember for the way that he died: Loving thy neighbor." — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy
"It's a tough break, because he's a very civic minded person. He has a daughter in high school and another daughter in college. He had always had a smile. I don't think I ever heard the guy say a swear word." — Easton Police Sgt. Will Spencer
"When a town experiences a loss like this, it's a loss for everyone. There's no greater loss than one that's tragic, because the grief is everlasting." — Beverlee Dacey, Easton resident
"He was always asking, 'What can I do for you?' mostly at fire scenes and accidents. He always had a smile on his face. In bad weather and good, he always had a good attitude. Nothing seemed to phase him. He was always willing to help." — Easton Police Chief James Candee
"He was the definition of a cool uncle. He was the first to have fun, but he was also the first to fall asleep on the couch. I have the photos to prove it. He attacked any job with zeal. He always gave 110%. He was overcome with love for his wife and children. Russ being gone leaves a huge hole in our hearts." — Chris Neary, nephew
"He saved my husband's life. He fell down the stairs and Peter and Russell Neary were the first people to get out of the ambulance. They took him to the emergency room and got his medicine for him. They stayed at the hospital and came back to visit him." — Judi Menegay
"The physical aspect of him is gone, but we all know he will live right here. He'll live in our hearts." — Robert Menegay, family friend
"While we’re hunkering down, those first responders are going out in this. It reminds me of 9/11, when firefighters ran into the building. These guys ran into the storm and they're volunteers. I don't think a lot of people know that." — Carol Maisel, Neary's neighbor
"He had a zest for life and he's going to be missed immensely. He was part of our family and his family was part of our family. His radio number was 26. When he would sign onto his radio, he did it the loudest and the best." — Easton Fire Chief Jim Girardi
"He was always the one to raise his hand to volunteer." — First Assistant Easton Fire Chief Steve Waugh.
"He's just a good man and the town of Easton is a lesser place without him. I think the best thing people can do to remember him is to become involved in their community. That’s what Russ did." — Jon Arnold, assistant chief of ambulance for Easton EMS