The event, at Maggie's Waterfront Cafe on Delaware Avenue, was organized to support Nally and Mosca. The couple plan to get married July 6, a date that Nally, who is also recovering from broken bones in his back and pelvis, said they had set before the accident and had no intention of postponing.
Some of the proceeds of the event will go to the Fallen Heroes Memorial Fund, a joint effort of Philadelphia Fire Fighters Local 22 and Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5, with the aim of creating a memorial in Franklin Park to honor police and firefighters who died in the line of duty.
The plan got an unfortunate boost with the deaths of Sweeney and Neary.
Local businesses, community members, police, and firefighters pitched in Saturday to donate the roast beef, hot dogs, beer, and prizes for a silent auction, said John Nagele, general manager at Maggie's. The community came together for the event, said Nagele, who estimated early in the afternoon that 2,000 tickets had been sold at $25 apiece.
The tragedy that led to the fund-raiser began early April 9, although the city had previously cited the owners of the decrepit, block-long Thomas W. Buck Hosiery building in Kensington, and neighbors had complained that it was accessible to vagrants and was a fire hazard.
The five-alarm fire burst out before dawn. It had started to spread to other buildings and was declared under control around 5:20 a.m.
At that point, four firefighters - Nally, Sweeney, Neary, and Francis Cheney - entered an adjacent furniture store to make sure the flames had not reignited. While they were inside, a brick wall of the warehouse complex toppled onto the store, burying the men under tons of bricks. Cheney, 43, was injured as well but stayed in the building to help pull the others out.
A grand jury is investigating. The building that caught fire was owned by the Lichtenstein family of New York City. Authorities in Philadelphia said the family had not responded to earlier safety citations and owned dozens of other properties in Philadelphia through various entities.
The river sparkled in the bright June sunshine as the event was kicked off at 2 p.m. by a fireboat, then a procession of the Police and Fire Pipes and Drums, outfitted in kilts. The crowd broke out in cheers when the guest of honor and his fiancée arrived.
Anthony Dello Russo helped organize the event. He had worked with Nally at Ladder 16 nearby. Nally was asked to substitute for someone else that day at Ladder 10, where Cheney, Sweeney, and Neary were stationed. Ladder 10, whose firefighters had been decorated numerous times for saving people from burning buildings, was called to the warehouse fire.
Ladder 16 came in after the collapse, and Dello Russo said he ran into the building soon after Nally had been freed.
Recalling his time under the rubble, Nally said it had been difficult to tell where he was injured.
"Everything hurt and I couldn't breathe," he said.
Nally was taken to Temple University Hospital, where he said he received good care. He said the staff pushed him to get up from bed within days. His crushed foot is now full of medical hardware, and he said doctors predicted he could start to put weight on it in five months.
The most difficult part of the recovery, he said, was having so much time to wonder why his fellow firefighters died.
"You feel angry, sad, and thankful," Nally said. "Today, I just feel thankful." When he recovers, he said, he plans to go back to firefighting.
Contact Faye Flam at 215-854-4977 or email@example.com.