Fallen fire­fight­ers hon­ored as ‘au­then­tic Delaware he­roes’

Cecil Whig - - REGIONAL - By KARIE SIM­MONS

Spe­cial from the Ne­wark Post

— In the days fol­low­ing a deadly house fire that claimed the lives of two Wilm­ing­ton fire­fight­ers, Wilm­ing­ton Fire Depart­ment Chief An­thony Goode couldn’t sleep. He stayed awake at night, strug­gling to find the words to help the fam­i­lies and friends of Lt. Christo­pher Leach and Se­nior Fire­fighter Jerry Fickes fill the void in their hearts.

It took a lit­tle while be­fore Goode re­al­ized the right words to say in a dif­fi­cult time are ac­tu­ally quite sim­ple.

“We love you,” he said. “We love you all.”

Thou­sands of of peo­ple, in­clud­ing hun­dreds of fire­fight­ers from de­part­ments across the coun­try, came out to the Chase Cen­ter on the River­front in Wilm­ing­ton on Satur­day to honor Leach, 41, and Fickes, 51, who died last week­end while bat­tling a blaze in Wilm­ing­ton’s Canby Park neigh­bor­hood.

When the fire­fight­ers en­tered the home, the floor col­lapsed, trap­ping three – Leach, Ardythe Hope and Brad Speak­man – in the base­ment.

Fickes went into the house to save them, but fell when the floor col­lapsed fur­ther. Fickes, who had been em­ployed by WFD for 13 years, died as a re­sult of the col­lapse, as did Leach, a 14-year vet­eran of the depart­ment. Hope and Speak­man are still in the hos­pi­tal re­cov­er­ing.

Fickes was also a mem­ber of Ne­wark’s Aetna Hose, Hook and Lad­der Co. and at one time served as an as­sis­tant chief. He gave up a well­pay­ing job as an in­sur­ance ac­tu­ary to take a full-time po­si­tion with WFD.

On Satur­day, Goode told the crowd at the Chase Cen­ter that he is grate­ful not only for the sac­ri­fices Fickes and Leach made through­out their ca­reers, but also the sac­ri­fices their fam­i­lies made every time they sent them off to work.

When Leach died, he left be­hind three chil­dren, Bren­dan, 16; Abby, 14, and Me­gan, 12; as well as his fi­ancee, Kate, and her two sons, Lan­don and Casey. Fickes left be­hind his wife Laura, and two sons, 18-year-old Ben­jamin and 16-year-old Joshua.

Goode awarded both men with the Medal of Honor and Medal of Valor, which is given to fire­fight­ers who have com­pleted an as­sign­ment un­der ex­tremely haz­ardous con­di­tions. He also pos­tu­mously pro­moted Leach to cap­tain and Fickes to lieu­tenant and then re­tired their badges from ser­vice, prais­ing their hard work and ded­i­ca­tion.

“To­day, we come to­gether to honor he­roes,” Goode said. “Two giants who stood among men.”

U. S. Rep. John Car­ney said he felt the pain in the room, and he felt the pain this past week in Wilm­ing­ton, Ne­wark and across Delaware as he passed flag af­ter flag fly­ing at half-staff.

“Our whole state is hurt­ing,” he said.

Car­ney said fire­fight­ers are among our ear­li­est ideas of what a hero is and it’s be­cause they are ex­am­ples of the hu­man spirit at its best – they make the world a safer place and they an­swer the call to lay down their lives to save a to­tal stranger.

Of­ten, he said, peo­ple throw around words like, “I’d walk through fire for you” or “I’d walk into a burn­ing build­ing for you,” when they want to show some­one they care, but those aren’t just say­ings to fire­fight­ers. “It’s what you do,” he said. Sen. Chris Coons echoed Car­ney’s re­marks, re­fer­ring to Fickes and Leach as “au­then­tic Delaware he­roes.”

“What­ever might pos­si­bly be wrong with Amer­ica, I am con­vinced it can be fixed

WILM­ING­TON, DEL.

with what’s best in Amer­ica. And your sons rep­re­sent what is best in Amer­ica,” he said, ad­dress­ing the par­ents of the fallen fire­fight­ers.

Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den used his own per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence with loss as a way to com­fort the fam­i­lies of the fallen.

“Faith sees best in the dark, and I know how dark is,” he said.

Last year, Bi­den and his wife, Jill, lost their son, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Beau Bi­den, af­ter a long bat­tle with brain cancer. He was 46.

“Jill and I know there’s not a damn thing any­body can say to ease the pain,” Bi­den said. “We hope you, as we did, gain some so­lace from the fact that so many peo­ple, so many peo­ple un­der­stood, ap­pre­ci­ate, knew, ad­mired and ab­so­lutely are in awe of what your son, your dad, your brother, your hus­band did.”

Bi­den vis­ited the scene of the fire in Canby Park hours af­ter the tragedy and re­called that all he could think about was the amount of courage it must have taken for Fickes, who he called a “war­rior,” to step through the door in or­der to save the trapped fire­fight­ers.

He said both men had im­mense in­tegrity, con­fi­dence and loy­alty, and while he didn’t know them per­son­ally, he knew them through the count­less other fire­fight­ers who have helped him and his fam­ily over the years.

“Thank God, but you’re all crazy,” he said, which prompted laughs from the au­di­ence. “You’re the sin­gle most un­der­rated pro­fes­sion in the world.”

He praised the hun­dreds of fire­fight­ers in the crowd for run­ning to­ward dan­ger in­stead of away and, in do­ing so, go­ing against every hu­man in­stinct and pro­vid­ing the hope that or­di­nary Amer­i­cans can do ex­traordi- nary things.

As for the fam­i­lies of the fallen, he told them their grief will get bet­ter, and there will even­tu­ally come a time when the thought of their loved one will bring a smile to their face be­fore it brings a tear.

“It’s not be­liev­able now, but it will come,” Bi­den said. “I prom­ise you.”

NE­WARK POST PHOTO BY JOSH SHAN­NON

Fire­fight­ers salute as a car car­ry­ing mem­bers of the Fickes fam­ily ap­proaches.

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