Lawsuit: City to blame in 3 Del. firefighters’ deaths

The lawsuit claims the firefighters might not have become trapped in a burning house if the closest fire truck able to carry water had been in service that night

By FireRescue1 Staff

WILMINGTON, Del. — A lawsuit filed on behalf of the families of three firefighters killed in a 2016 house fire blames city policy for their deaths.

During the fire response, Capt. Christopher Leach, Lt. Ardythe Hope and firefighter Brad Speakman fell into the basement of the home after becoming trapped when the first floor collapsed.

Lt. Jerry Fickes rushed to help them, and he and Leach died that morning. Hope died after spending weeks in the hospital.

The federal lawsuit claims that if the closest fire truck that could carry water had been in service, the fire would have been able to be extinguished and the three firefighters would not have become trapped when a floor collapsed, Delaware Online reported.

According to the lawsuit, the city ignored information that a years-old policy put in place to cut overtime costs was unsuccessful, and it was because of this policy that the truck was out of service, resulting in the firefighters’ deaths.

"All this would have been prevented if the city had let the firefighters do their jobs and get water to the fire scene as quickly as possible," attorney Thomas Neuberger said. "We will prove in the lawsuit that seconds and minutes matter, and delaying the arrival of water to the scene of a fire can make the difference between life and death for firefighters or civilians.”

Mayor Mike Purzycki vehemently said the claims are merely an effort by the attorneys to get more money from the city.

"While we continue to be very sad about the loss of our firefighters and the way this incident has affected the entire WFD family, this lawsuit is not an appropriate response to this tragedy," he said. "There are no reasons at all for the city to feel guilt or shame."

Purzycki said the blame should be placed on Beatriz Fana-Ruiz, who was charged with the murder of the three firefighters after starting the blaze.


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