Wilmington: In a Monday press release, Wilmington Fire Chief Anthony Goode said, “LT. Leach rushed into the engulfed home on Lakeview Road early Saturday morning thinking there was still people inside. He then became trapped and Senior Firefighter Jerry Fickes, LT. John Cawthray, Senior firefighter Peter Cramer, Senior Firefighter Ardythe Hope, and firefighter Brad Speakman from Wilmington’s Squad 4 Rescue unit went in to attempt to free him when the first floor collapsed.”
“I need ALS (advanced lifesaving support) for a downed firefighter., were looking for trooper 4”, says, Battalion Chief
But what really happened at 1927 Lakeview Rd on Saturday September 24, 2016? We’ve got some details, and this is what we know based on the actual radio communication between Battalion Chief, and the dispatcher from an online archive.
With more than 28 minutes of recorded communication, and even though the recording ends before the remaining firefighters are brought out, it paints a pretty clear picture of what really happened on that fateful night.
It was just after 2:45 A.M. when New Castle county 9-1-1 Center received a call from 1927 Lakeview Rd in Wilmington reporting a fire in the basement area. While we do not have the actual transcript of that call, it is believed that the caller informed the fire dispatcher that all occupants were safely evacuated from the home.
It was 2:55 A.M., and a dispatch went out to Wilmington Fire stations. During the dispatch, dispatchers are heard informing the first engine en-route that all occupants have been evacuated. The first unit en route was Engine 6, which is stationed nearly seconds away from the scene on N. Union St.
When engine 6 arrived, they saw heavy fire and smoke coming from the rear of the home. Upon exiting their unit at the scene they received erroneous reports that a daughter may have went back inside to save pets. Reacting to that possibility, LT. Leach, who is specialized in rescue operations, immediately went into the engulfed home based on the first-hand reports he received at the scene and began search and rescue operations.
In the meantime, a second engine pulled up to the front of the residence. According to radio communications obtained from Broadcastify, The Battalion Chief transmitted that heavy fire was on the first floor, and also in the rear of the residence on the second floor. It was at this point that dispatchers informs all crews at the scene that all occupants have safely evacuated the residence.
— Chris Coates (@TNJChrisC) September 26, 2016
Seconds later Battalion Chief informs dispatchers that there were downed power lines but he never specified where the downed lines were. The row-homes are situated on a residential street but have an alleyway behind them only wide enough for one vehicle.
Then suddenly at 3:15 A.M., the Battalion Chief reported “subjects trapped, Firefighters trapped, Mayday, Mayday”. Officials immediately began dispatching more resources to the scene. There was garbled transmission and the command staff at the scene reported to dispatchers that Senior Firefighter Jerry Fickes, LT. John Cawthray, Senior firefighter Peter Cramer, Senior Firefighter Ardythe Hope, and firefighter Brad Speakman from Wilmington’s Squad 4 Rescue unit went in to attempt to free him when the first floor collapsed into the basement.”
As the rescue efforts began for the trapped firefighters, the fire raged on, making it more difficult to reach them. Command staff began directing resources to the rear of the residence including more water. Firefighters, eventually made their way into the rear of the residence, pulled Firefighters Ardythe Hope and Brad Speakman from the engulfed home.
It was then that a Medevac was requested as one of the firefighters who needed advance life saving support. “I need ALS (advanced lifesaving support) for a downed firefighter., were looking for trooper 4”, says, Battalion Chief
As Trooper 4 made it’s landing the scene, Firefighters Ardythe Hope and Brad Speakman were flown to Crozer-Chester Medical center where they remain hospitalized.
Shortly after, LT. John Cawthray and Senior firefighter Peter Cramer was pulled from the home, loaded into awaiting ambulances and hauled off to Christiana Hospital with non-life threatening injuries.
Then, a shout came over the transmission, “we still have one more firefighter unaccounted for”. Emergency Responders worked for more than thirty minutes in the rubble at times while the home was still engulfed, to pull Senior Firefighter Jerry Fickes and LT. Leach from the collapsed flooring in the basement.
Although LT. John Cawthray and Senior firefighter Peter Cramer was transported to Christiana Hospital, they have since been released. They were able to assist their fellow firemen in carrying their fallen to their respective funeral homes on Monday.
In the meantime, Firefighters Ardythe Hope and Brad Speakman remain hospitalized at Crozer Chester Medical Center. In a recent press release, Wilmington Battalion Chief James Jobes said, “Speakman was upgraded to stable condition Wednesday and Hope remains in stable but critical condition”.
Investigators have not provided any updates in the cause of the fire that killed Lt. Christopher Leach and Senior Firefighter Jerry Fickes. Jobes said there has been progress in the investigation, but he was not at liberty to reveal any details Wednesday.
“Any breaking developments, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the investigation or the locations of suspects,” would likely come in the form of a press conference, he said. The Wilmington Fire Department will coordinate those efforts despite the state Fire Marshal’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives heading up the investigation.
On a more positive note, supporters continue to raise money for the families of Leach and Fickes.
A GoFundMe page started by the Wilmington’s firefighter union, the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1590, had surpassed its initial goal of raising $50,000 for the family. The fundraiser was up to $56,000 as of mid-afternoon Wednesday and continues to accept donations.
Individual funeral services will be held Friday for Leach and Fickes, and a joint memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at the Chase Center on the Riverfront. The service is expected to draw at least 2,000, with first responders from around the country expected.