THE MEN of Fralinger String Band were running on little sleep, but they had pep in their step as they rehearsed Tuesday night in South Philly - and not just because they were practicing their tunes for the Mummers Parade.
On Tuesday afternoon, almost 24 hours after a four-alarm fire erupted in the warehouse at 2nd and Wharton streets where Fralinger built and stored its floats and props for the 2013 parade, band members were freed from some of their sadness. Finally allowed back inside to assess the damage, they found that most of their belongings had been saved from destruction, thanks to a fire wall between their space and the unlicensed auto-repair shop where the fire started.
For Mummers who thought they'd be scrambling to rebuild in the three weeks before the parade, seeing most of their props intact lifted a weight off their shoulders.
"At first glance in the daylight, the bigger wood props looked to be OK. The foam was completely saturated, but they were still there. We were very relieved," Fralinger Captain Thomas D'Amore, 24, said over the band's music at the rehearsal Tuesday night, at Holy Ghost Church at 24th and Wolf streets.
"It was exhilarating," he said, adding that he'd slept about two hours Monday night before he and other Fralinger members met outside the warehouse about 5:30 a.m. hoping they'd be allowed inside. "We were expecting a complete overhaul. It's a relaxing night, actually."
Despite their relief, Fralinger members said their thoughts are with families whose nearby homes were destroyed by the fire.
D'Amore's younger brother and fellow Fralinger member, Chris D'Amore, 19, stood outside the rehearsal, his saxophone and sheet music hanging around his neck as he described a bittersweet feeling among the men in the band that their belongings were - for the most part - saved, while one home on the block was destroyed and at least three others were damaged.
"It was not so much our props, but we were really worried they might ignite the fire even more," he said.
In the end, Thomas D'Amore said, they may have to rebuild some of the foam floats that were saturated during the fire. Compared with what the displaced families are going through, he said, that's a small price to pay.
"Those people may have lost everything they had, and our hearts really go out to them," he said. "We had been sitting next to a family that lost their home [Monday night near the scene], and our hearts sank. It definitely hits closer to home at that point."
After Fralinger's rehearsal Sunday, the band plans to parade down 2nd Street in an effort to raise money for the families affected by the fire, and donations collected via Fralinger's website also will go to benefit them.
As for New Year's Day, Thomas D'Amore said, it will go down in Fralinger history as one of the most treasured.
"Every year is special because you put in so much hard work," he said. "But obviously, for these reasons, [this year] is going to be extra special. It's heartwarming to us to be able to compete."