After years of being in the works, a new memorial was revealed during a ceremony commemorating the five-year anniversary of the deadly Canby Park fire, that took the lives of three Wilmington firefighters.
WILMINGTON (DE) BY GEORGE SHEA, DELAWARE NEWSLINE: As flags in the City flew at half-staff, a ceremony was getting underway at Canby Park around 1:00 p.m. on Friday September 24, 2021, to remember and honor the ultimate sacrifice made by three Wilmington firefighters.
Lieutenants Jerry Fickes and Ardythe Hope, and Captain Christopher Leach, all died in the line of duty five years ago on September 24, 2016, while fighting a Canby Park rowhouse fire that also injured several other firefighters.
The fire, which was ruled an arson was intentionally set by 27-Year-Old Fana-Ruiz, of Lakeview Drive, on the night of September 24, 2016.
Investigators say the fire quickly spread into the ceiling and weakened the floor joists and Lt. Christopher Leach, Senior Firefighter Ardythe Hope died as a result of injuries they sustained when the first floor collapsed causing them to fall into the burning basement.
Firefighter Brad Speakman was also seriously injured when he also fell into the basement and Senior/Firefighter Jerry Fickes was killed as he tried to pull Lt. Leach from the fire and another portion of the ceiling collapsed onto him.
According to court documents, Fana-Ruiz told investigators She was not happy with her living situation or her life, was drunk, and on anxiety medication when she went to the basement to get her things. Instead, investigators say she confessed to lighting the fire in the basement.
Beatriz Fana-Ruiz was charged with two counts of first-degree murder; one count of first-degree arson; four counts of second-degree assault in the injuries of other firefighters involved; and seven counts of reckless endangerment, according to the state Fire Marshal’s Office. Beatriz Fana-Ruiz later faced an additional murder charge as the result of Hope’s passing. Hope was the third firefighter to die from the September 24th Canby Park blaze.
According to the Department of Justice, In August 2019, Fana-Ruiz pleaded guilty to Murder Second Degree, Arson First Degree, and Assault First Degree. A Superior Court Judge sentenced Fana-Ruiz to 30 years in prison, followed by 2 ½ years probation. Additionally, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has filed a detainer against Fana-Ruiz, seeking her deportation to her home country of the Dominican Republic when released from custody in Delaware.
At the time of sentencing, Attorney General Kathleen Jennings said, “This horrific tragedy reminds us of the danger Delaware’s first responders knowingly and willingly put themselves in every day to protect us. I thank our prosecution team and those who investigated the case, but most importantly I continue to extend my and DOJ’s sympathies to the families and friends of the firefighters who were killed and injured, as well as to the still grieving Wilmington Fire Department.”
The new memorial was unveiled at the ceremony which has been in the works for several years and who Wilmington Firefighter Lt. Jeffrey Schall, helped bring to life – all with a simple vision. A vision to create a beautiful memorial to honor their friends and with a concept to never let anyone build on the grounds at 1927 Lakeview Drive.
“Chris, Jerry and Ardy deserve to have a beautiful memorial. The Leach, Fickes, and Hope families deserve to have a beautiful memorial dedicated to their loved ones. The members of the Wilmington Fire Department, Wilmington Firefighters Association Local 1590, and all of our family and friends deserve to have this tribute to our brothers and sister.,” Said Lt. Jeffrey Schall.
“We are sadly reminded today of the great personal sacrifice that the brave, dedicated men and women of the WFD make when they put on the uniform of a Wilmington firefighter,” said Mayor Purzycki. “When we tragically lost Captain Christopher Leach, Lieutenant “Ardy” Hope, and Lieutenant Jerry Fickes five years ago – although it still feels like yesterday – we lost members of our extended Wilmington family, leaving a hole that can never be filled. They paid the ultimate price while doing what each of them loved – what each had been called to do – and we are forever grateful for their sacrifice. We keep them in our hearts today and every day as we continue to move forward. And to their colleagues and friends left behind to perform one of the most demanding yet rewarding jobs there is, know that you have my admiration, my gratitude, my respect, and my full support.”
The memorial would not of been possible without the support of so many. The memorial on the consecrated ground, was made possible through donations to the Wilmington Benevolent Fund, the non-profit branch of the firefighters’ union.
“While the fund is young and formed only a few years ago, it has in that time, found itself in a position not only to take guardianship of the Lakeview property, but also to memorialize it. Through the dedication and devotion by our union members, and particularly, the labors of Jeffrey Schall, thousands of dollars have been raised and generously donated, along with countless hours given to help transform the property into a proper memorial in order to honor the lives and sacrifices of Ardy Hope, Chris Leach, and Jerry Fickes,” said Wilmington firefighter Peter Vincent.
“The memorial is absolutely magnificent and humbling, and it will be a symbol for years to come, honoring our fallen,” said Wilmington Fire Chief John Looney. “The sacred ground this memorial was built on is an everlasting symbol of our obligation to never forget, Chris, Ardy, Jerry, and that ultimate sacrifice.”
“September 24th, 2016, was a tragic day in the history of the Wilmington Fire Department,” Looney added. “The immediate loss of Chris and Jerry was devastating, not only for our department, but was felt throughout the firefighting community. Firefighters Ardythe Hope and Brad Speakman suffered significant burn injuries requiring intensive treatment. Unfortunately, Ardy passed away on December 1, 2016, due to her injuries. Chris, Ardy, and Jerry paid the ultimate sacrifice protecting the citizens of Wilmington. It’s hard to believe the 5th Anniversary is upon us but it’s important that we ‘Never Forget’ their sacrifice. So many lives were suddenly changed on September 24, 2016. I ask everyone to take a moment to remember them in a moment of silence.”
At the time of the fire, Lt. John Cawthray, who is also Local 1590 Firefighters Union president, and who was injured during the fire, expressed gratitude for the love and support the department has received since that fateful day. He hopes the memorial will move the department forward.
“The Lakeview memorial will forever stand as a location, where all members–past, present, and future–will have a place to pay tribute to our fallen brothers and sister. My hope is that the memorial will be a new beginning for everyone who was directly and indirectly involved that night. My hope is not that we necessarily move on, but move forward and get closure,” said Cawthray. “My hope is that this will become a place where we can remember the good times that we had with Ardy, Chris, and Jerry.”
Loved ones of Chris, Jerry, and Ardy also shared stories in remembrance of their fallen heroes Friday.
“To say Chris was passionate about firefighting was probably an understatement. He lived to go to work, to fight fire, to serve his community, and to mentor new recruits,” said his sister Katie Leach. “He was a born leader, a jokester, a great man, and an even better father.,” said Katie Leach, sister of Lt. Chris Leach.
“Anyone that knew Mommy knew how much she loved to help her community. She loved to help it so much that no matter where she went, she always knew somebody,” laughed Aradvia Lee, daughter of LT. Ardy Hope.
“He enjoyed being a dad more than anything in the world. He embraced whatever our kids embraced. He was always interested in what they were learning, and he loved sharing his brilliant mind with them. I asked my kids–‘how did you know how to do that?’ And there answer is almost always–dad taught me.,” said Laura Fickes, widow of fallen Wilmington firefighter Jerry Fickes.
Following the ceremony, hundreds drove by the new memorial at 1927 Lakeview Drive to show their respect.