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Firefighters' suit against Wilmington, former officials over deadly 2016 fire dismissed

Sophia Schmidt
Delaware Public Media
Surviving firefighter Terry Tate stood with children of two firefighters who died in the blaze at a 2018 press conference in which the suit was announced

A federal judge has dismissed the suit filed against the City of Wilmington and several former officials related to the 2016 Canby Park fire. 

The suit was brought by the families of firefighters Christopher Leach, Jerry Fickes and Ardythe Hope, who died in the blaze, as well as others injured during it. 

In the complaint filed in 2018, the plaintiffs alleged the deadliness of the fire resulted from city policies— including the practice of rolling bypasses, where fire engines and crews are temporarily taken out of commission to cut costs. 

Last week, U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika dismissed the complaints against the City, former Mayor Dennis Williams and former fire chief Anthony Goode. The complaints against former Mayor Jim Baker and former fire chief Willie Patrick, Jr., were dismissed previously. Last week Noreika opined that all plaintiffs failed to claim the necessary underlying constitutional violations.

The plaintiffs’ attorney Tom Neuberger says they plan to appeal. He added in a statement he is confident the “conscience” of the appeals court judge will be “shocked … by the I Don’t Care attitude of the city regarding firefighter safety.”

Current Mayor Mike Purzycki’s Deputy Chief of Staff John Rago said the city is pleased with the court’s decision. He confirmed the Wilmington Fire Department continues to use rolling bypasses. 

The city and the firefighters' union are currently engaged in binding arbitration hearings following contentious contract negotiations. The union objects to a new shift structure the city proposed, which officials argue could end rolling bypasses.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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