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Appeal of federal Canby Park fire lawsuit fails

Delaware Public Media

A civil suit brought by the families of three firefighters who died in the 2016 Canby Park fire, and several firefighters injured in the blaze appears to be over.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a U.S. District Court’s dismissal of the case against the City of Wilmington and several former city officials.

The plaintiffs claimed the city’s policy of “rolling bypasses” - or temporarily taking engines and crews offline to cut costs - contributed to the deadliness of the fire. They also claim the city understaffed the fire department and increased the number of firefighters working desk jobs.

The appeal court judge agreed with the lower court’s ruling that the plaintiffs failed to make a constitutional claim within the court's jurisdiction. The decision also backed the District Court’s opinion that the risk of injury or death is inherent to a firefighter’s job and any increase in risk created by the “rolling bypass” policy or other issues did not alter that fundamental risk.


The plantiffs attorney, Thomas Neuberger, expressed disappointment about the decision in a statement.


“These heroes died because of an official City policy of defying City Council andkeeping fire engines and firefighters away from civilians trapped in burning buildings,” said Neuberger in his statement." “But under the present state offederal law, justice will never be done before a Delaware federal court jury for the victims of the City’s reckless and deadly policies."


A spokesman for the City of Wilmington says the city has no comment on the ruling.


Wilmington firefighters Christopher Leach, Jerry Fickes and Ardythe Hope died in the 2016 blaze. Firefighters Brad Speakman, Terry Tate and John Cawthray were injured.  Speakman and Tate retired early due to their injuries.  Cawthray remains on duty.


Beatriz Fana-Ruiz pleaded guilty in 2019 to second-degree murder and arson charges in connection with the fatal fire and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Canby Park Appeal Decision by Delaware Public Media on Scribd

Tom Byrne has been a fixture covering news in Delaware for three decades. He joined Delaware Public Media in 2010 as our first news director and has guided the news team ever since. When he's not covering the news, he can be found reading history or pursuing his love of all things athletic.
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