EASTBROOK – Thomas “Tommy” McNeil, the local fire chief’s 13-year-old son who died last month when a fire engulfed his father’s mobile home, was laid to rest Friday.
An intermittent rain fell as firefighters, family and friends gathered at 2 p.m. at Sunnyside Cemetery on Route 200. Cars and trucks lined both sides of the road while three firetrucks and an ambulance stood parked along a cemetery road, their lights flashing in the drizzle as people paid their last respects.
Rick McNeil, Tommy’s father, was seriously injured in the April 19 blaze that destroyed their home. He was treated at Maine Medical Center in Portland for three weeks and kept in a medical coma for much of that time to help his wounds heal. He has been back home in Eastbrook since May 11.
The fire chief and his family asked news media not to attend Tommy’s funeral, and afterward asked reporters not to interview relatives or guests at a reception held at the Eastbrook Community Center. McNeil did speak briefly with a reporter at the reception, however.
“My lungs aren’t quite what they should be,” he said as he stood wearing his Fire Department uniform inside the community center hall. “I’m doing a lot better, thanks to the people here.”
A plastic adhesive bandage covered a spot on McNeil’s neck where he had been given a tracheotomy during his hospital stay, but his grip was firm as he shook well-wishers’ hands. In the corner of the hall stood two placards displaying photographs of Tommy, Spider-Man masks and small cards depicting NASCAR driver Tony Stewart.
McNeil and his relatives have been cautious about talking to reporters about the fire, in part because it is still being investigated by the State Fire Marshal’s Office and Maine State Police. Investigators have said that other than McNeil and his son, a woman was in the mobile home when the fire occurred. Police have interviewed the woman but have not identified her or indicated whether she might know how the fire started.
Paul Edgerly, McNeil’s half brother, rescued McNeil from the burning mobile home, which is across Abbott Lane from his house. Edgerly has said that after the woman woke him up around 5 a.m. to tell him about the fire, he crawled into the burning mobile home on his hands and knees, found McNeil, and pulled him outside. The flames and thick smoke prevented him from getting to Tommy’s room, Edgerly has said.
McNeil’s other son, 14-year-old Richard McNeil, was spending the night at his grandmother’s house nearby when the mobile home caught fire.
Maine State Police Sgt. Troy Gardiner said this week that police have interviewed McNeil about the fire. He declined to comment further about the status of the investigation.
“It’s still open,” he said.
Gardiner and Detective Gerald Coleman of the Maine State Police were among those who attended Tommy’s funeral.
After mourners left the cemetery, toys representing Tommy’s favorite superheroes and science fiction characters were placed among the flowers adorning his grave. A Spider-Man kite lay face up on the ground next to the headstone, while figurines of Star Wars characters Yoda, Darth Vader and R2-D2 were propped up nearby.
Since the fire, friends and relatives have been holding fundraisers for Rick McNeil, who is self-employed as a house painter, to help him pay his medical bills and other expenses. Dozens of area businesses and individuals have donated services and materials to help replace McNeil’s destroyed mobile home, according to relatives.
On May 18, Eastbrook native and professional mixed martial arts fighter Tim Sylvia hosted a local auction and autograph session that netted about $4,000 for McNeil, while a May 4 breakfast raised about $10,000, according to Tony Coggio, public information officer for the local Fire Department.
Other scheduled fundraisers for McNeil have yet to be held. An all-day golf tournament and an evening dance are slated for today at The White Birches Country Club in Hancock, while another dance benefit is expected to take place tonight at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Lincoln. A benefit comedy show has been scheduled at The White Birches for Friday, Aug. 8.
Information is available at www.eastbrookvfd.org or by calling the Eastbrook Fire Department at 565-3519.