Biden honors fallen Del. firefighters

The vice president, a Delaware native, spoke to crowds Saturday during memorial services for firefighters Lt. Christopher Leach and Jerry Fickes

By Julie Shaw
The Philadelphia Inquirer

WILMINGTON, Del. — Vice President Biden on Saturday honored the two Wilmington firefighters who died Sept. 24 when the first floor of a burning two-story brick rowhouse collapsed, trapping the two men.

With his hands clasped and his head bowed, Biden, looked out at the solemn gathering and told the families of the two firefighters: "I know how dark it is."

"Jill and I have some idea how dark it is for you," said Biden, who last year lost his son Beau to brain cancer.

"On behalf of President Obama and the entire country, our hearts go out to you," he told the families of Lt. Christopher Leach, 41, and Senior Firefighter Jerry Fickes, 51.

Leach, a 14-year veteran with the Wilmington Fire Department, was promoted posthumously Saturday to the rank of captain; Fickes, a 13-year veteran, was promoted to lieutenant, Wilmington Fire Chief Anthony Goode said during the memorial service at the Chase Center on the Riverfront.

The two, who left behind families and children, died in the blaze, which was reported at 2:54 a.m. at the rowhouse on the 1900 block of Lakeview Road. Investigators have determined the fire was deliberately set.

Biden, who was a U.S. senator from Delaware before becoming vice president, said that when he visited the scene of the fire last weekend, he thought of the "dozens of Wilmington firefighters who rushed toward that black smoke and blazing flames. . . . All I could think of was what incredible courage it took for them all to step through that door."

He said he didn't know Leach or Fickes personally, but has had experience with firefighters who have saved him and his family in emergency situations.

"Thank God, but you're all crazy," he said to laughter in the crowd.

"You're the single-most underappreciated profession in the world. You really are," he added, to applause.

Leach and Fickes were laid to rest in funeral services Friday.

Four other firefighters were injured in the Sept. 24 blaze, including two who suffered critical burns and were taken to Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Upland.

Those two - Ardythe Hope and Brad Speakman - remained hospitalized in critical but stable condition, a hospital spokeswoman said Saturday.

Two other firefighters suffered burns on their arms and were treated and released from Christiana Hospital in Newark.

On Thursday, Beatriz Fana-Ruiz, 27, who lived in the house, was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, first-degree arson, assault charges, and seven counts of reckless endangerment.

According to court papers, Fana-Ruiz, the daughter of the owner of the house and the stepdaughter of the man's wife, told investigators that she had been angry and had gone into the basement of the house and started a fire, then fled.

Missy Napier, who lived in the house with her five children, ages 10 to 17, told the Wilmington News Journal on the day of the blaze that she, her children, and another child were sleeping and awoke to find smoke. After her children were rousted from sleep, they managed to escape out the back of the house.

Copyright 2016 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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