US Senate Remembers Fallen Heroes

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Delaware Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons remembered Wilmington’s firefighters on Wednesday.

Senator Coons: Mr. President, it is with a heavy heart that senator carper and I come to the floor this evening to honor Chris Leach and Jerry Fickes, two brave Wilmington firefighter whose lost their lives this past Saturday night.

In any state, any community, the loss of a firefighter or police officer is devastating. But in our small state of neighbors, a close-knit state with an even closer-knit first responder community, a community that includes families and multiple generations, it is especially hard.

To those who knew Chris and Jerry, it must be little comfort now that we’re here on the floor of the United States Senate to pay tribute to their lives, but in the next few minutes, we hope to capture just a fraction of the light that they brought to their families and to our community with their love and their service. Lieutenant Christopher Leach wasn’t supposed to be working on Saturday night, but he filled in for another firefighter, likely thinking it would be a shift like any other, but always willing to step forward and serve.

After getting the call there was a fire, in a Canby Park rowhouse, Chris did what he had been training to do since 1993. Chris did what he’d told his friends all the way back to Salesianum High School what he’d always wanted to do as long as they could remember. He fought fire.

Chris grew up in the volunteer fire service. he joined the Tallyville fire company in 1993, at the age of 18, rising steadily through the ranks of the volunteer fire service to captain. The more time he spent at the fire house, the more he loved it. Four years later at the age 22, Chris joined the Claymont fire company. Chris was a lifelong learn, doing whatever he could to develop new skills to support his crew mates and to help save lives. Chris took classes all over our country from Virginia to Texas to California. and Chris’ training paid off.

In July of 2002 at house fire in Claymont, a firefighter from the ladder company fell through the first floor into the basement. Chris and two others saved that firefighter’s life, earning Chris, a series of recognitions including fireman of the year from New Castle County Volunteer Fire Service and from the Claymont Fire Company. Several months later, Chris joined the Wilmington fire department where he was assigned to engine 4-B Platoon. He was only there a couple of years before he transferred to special operations, command of engine 1-B where he was quickly recognized for his work and then to rescue 1-B. At that time of his passing, he was serving with Engine 6.

All of this time, Chris never stopped learning and improving, never stopped acting on his passion for firefighting. He researched and applied for and earn add $200,000 grant for extra training and equipment. He wrote the standard operating procedures for the special operations command. He trained as an instructor in NIMS, the National Incident Management System, and made sure that every Tallyville volunteer member became certified in NIMS system.

He served on the New Castle County Rescue Team and earned add bachelors of science in the fire service administration from Waldorf University. Throughout a long and distinguished firefighting career, Chris was constantly achieving and growing, saving lives and building new skills. Described by so many I’ve spoken to as a firefighter’s firefighter, his commitment to his brothers and sisters at the firehouse was relentless. If he thought the department needed something done, he’d go do it himself.

If the fire company couldn’t afford something, he had aide find a way to make it happen. That went beyond his professional leadership. Chris, I’ve heard from so many, was a good and loyal and faithful friend, a softball teammate but also a practical joker. A lover of Billy Joel and Lynyrd Skynyrd, a so-called Mr. Fix-It, and king of nicknames, a big guy with a big heart and a deep voice who couldn’t hide when he entered a room.

Chris was someone who volunteered at the firehouse on his days off and visited elementary schools to talk about his love of firefighting and to help persuade a young generation to join him. as his friend Andy described him, Chris was the kind of Lieutenant you just wanted to work for. He loved his job, he loved his colleagues, and he loved his responsibility, but there was nothing he loved more than his family, his mother fisherman, his sister — his mother Fran, his sister, his fiancé and her boys Landon and Casey. Chris loved his beautiful children. he said there was nothing better than being a father to his kids Brendan age 16, Abby 14, and Megan 12. He took them camping and fishing and to the beach and the boy scouts and always found a way to be there for their every activity. He lived for his kids. Chris lost his own father Michael to cancer in 2004 and always kept his funeral card in his helmet. Chris honored his father by being a great dad himself, just as Michael was to him. we can only hope that in the brief time each of us have here that we shine brightly and relentlessly for the people we love and the community we serve. Few Few shine as brightly as Chris Leach did.

With that, Mr. President, I’d like to yield the floor to my colleague from Delaware, Senator Carper, who will share some words about another hero whom we also lost on Saturday, Senior Firefighter Jerry Fickes.

 

Senator Carper: I want to thank my colleague, Senator Coons, Chris Coons, for allowing me to join him together to offer this tribute to Chris Leach and Jerry Fickes. earlier this day, the floor was busy with activity and really joyful activity, as democrats and republicans tried to work together to come to agreement on a spending plan to fund our government past the end of this fiscal year into the beginning of the coming fiscal year and worked out some difficult compromises. It there was actually a lot of joy here. as we said goodbye to one another and headed for our respective states until after the election, and so on the heels of what was a joyous afternoon comes a far more serious one. And that’s the opportunity to say goodbye and to say thank you to a couple of Delawareans who are true public servants who tragically lost their lives this past weekend in trying to save the lives of others.

Chris Leach and Jerry Fickes. I’m going to talk about Jerry as Senator Coons has shared with us some wonderful words about Chris Leach, lieutenant Chris Leach. on Saturday Jerry Fickes, a 13-year veteran of the wing ton fire department rushed into a burning home along with his colleague, Chris, and others, when a member of the team believed to be Chris became trapped in the blaze. they were told, i understand from those who were present at the fire, that the Wilmington fire department showed up they were led to believe there were people inside the house, the house was on fire and they needed to be saved.

Once inside the building I think they went into the basement but the floor above them apparently gave way and their lives were lost in that fire. Two other firefighters were critically burned and hopefully they are going to live, but one has burns on 70% of her body. our hopes and prayers are with her and with her colleague who received also very serious burn damage.

Jerry Fickes was a husband. he was a father, a U.S. Army veteran, beloved member of Delaware’s firefighter family, and that is a strong family, Senator Coons, strong family, strong bond. very proud of proud of them all.

He was born not in Delaware. he was born in Evanston, Illinois, to his mom Julian and his father Jerry, after whom Jerry Fickes Jr. is named. He later moved to Kansas City, a suburb of Kansas City. His life was full of football games outside with his neighbors and five brothers and sisters, Jerry, Kimberly, Steven and David.

The neighborhood kids played together crossing through each other’s yards I’m told constantly to get to different houses, that the neighbors were unsuccessful at keeping shrubs along their property line.

When Jerry started his freshman year in Topeka, Kansas, his grades were less than stellar but in reality he was bored. Once he joined the Army ROTC things turned around. It gave him structure, he became driven. By the time he reached his junior year in college he would meet his future wife Laura While she was working Jerry had it all together. He was a serious student but known to be a fun loving guy. He graduated with a degree in computer and science and mathematics. His motto became mind, body and spirit. If you have all three, you’re sound. college and the ROTC taught Jerry there was a lot more to learning than just learning facts. That’s when things started to click with Jerry.

He started his obligation to the Army with officer training in Fort Benning. He took a test and scored so well that the Army asked him what he would like to do. That doesn’t happen every day. Jerry told him he wanted to join the infantry because he wanted to make a difference and that’s where he felt he could best do it. I think that tells us a lot about the kind of man Jerry Fickes.

His wife recalls the first time she met Jerry in a his dorm building where she answered the phone. When people would call for him people would say his name differently. Fix. Laura could never find his name in the directory until she met him in person. she asked him how do you say your name and he replied you can say whatever you want to say and walked away. Little did she or he know that someday she would take that name a few years later as her own.

Once married, Jerry had the opportunity to become an actuary with a company in Wilmington and the newlyweds with their hard to pronounce last name came to the east coast.

Jerry worked at Alaco and became a consultant in Philadelphia. but something always nagged at Jerry. He had the heart of a servant. when the first gulf war came around he knew he could use training in chemical warfare to be an asset. He called as a reservist in Kansas to be put on the activation list. but he was not called up. But Jerry wanted to do more. and so it didn’t surprise Laura when Jerry decided to join the Aetna Hook and Ladder company in Newark, Delaware, as a volunteer firefighter.

For over a decade Jerry juggled his fighter fighting abilities with a career in financial services and a new family that would include Ben and Josh. It didn’t surprise Laura when after 12 years of volunteering Jerry would no longer ignore his true calling. He gave up his job in financial services to work full time with the wing ton fire company.

From day one Jerry jumped at the chance to take every call that came in on his shift. Because of this, the firefighters called Jerry a dynamo and sometimes his determination to get the job done right would leave Jerry draped in insulation from an attic while everyone else’s gear was nearly clean.

Those were mischievous days running around in Kansas weren’t far off. around the firehouse Jerry was known as a prolific prankster. Fiends would recall he often would pull a prank, sit back and watch in waiting as everyone tried to figure out who was responsible for this latest joke. Jerry lived a full life but perhaps no job was more important to him than helping to raise their two sons, Ben and Josh. Jerry was always interested in hearing about their sons and even about their friends, their interests, goals and projects. He was the first to help them research a science project, chaperon big gatherings or teach Sunday school at grace Lutheran church in Hockessin. Even though Jerry didn’t care much for money he knew how much his son ben did. Jerry did the first few triathlons with Ben this past May. they both ran a marathon. imagine that. son and father and they were both getting excited about the next race. Jerry was excited to learn his son qualified for the marathon. When josh and Ben learned from their dad what is really important in life and that is to serve others. shake adults’ hands and look them right in the eye. give up your seat on the subway, bus or train for somebody else. That’s the way Jerry lived his life. That’s what he passed down to his children.

Jerry was a true public servant. He devoted his entire adult life to others. He was also a man of deep faith. His service and ultimately his sacrifice reminds me, and I know Senator Coons, of the passage from the book of john, greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends. while no words can ease the suffering of Jerry’s family, we seek solace in the memory of a life lived for others and a life given to others by a brave and selfless man. I pray and will continue to pray for Jerry’s wife of 26 years, Laura, their two sons, Ben and Josh, Jerry’s dad, Jerry Sr., his brothers, sisters, many nieces and nephews and his brothers and sisters in the Wilmington fire services.

Words can never express the pride we have in our hearts for our firefighters in Delaware, the city of Wilmington and throughout our state, how grateful we are for their sacrifice, for that of their families and because of the work they do every day, the work that Jerry did and really gave up his life for is unlike any other.

from the moment he and his fellow firefighters put on that uniform every morning they answered a call that they know could put their lives at risk in just a moment. I’m reminded of the words of firefighters prayers that go like this. when I’m called to duty, god, wherever flames may race, give me the strength to save some life. and if according to our faith i have to lose my life, please bless with your protecting hand my children and my wife. the prayer embodies the selflessness Jerry Fickes displayed every single day, took an oath to serve knowing one day he might not come home feeling even more strongly he had to serve others. it is my hope the community of Delaware can help look after Jerry’s family, his wife and children, help to comfort them in their time of need and looking out for them in the days to come. tomorrow’s Delaware firefighters will continue to put on their gear to go to work to protect our communities. we salute you. we say thank you. and thank you for your unwavering commitment to lives lived in the service to others. you are an inspiration to us all. so is Jerry. and god bless each and every one of you. and may god bless Jerry Fickes. thank you.

 

Senator Carper: Mr. President, before we conclude, let us share our deepest gratitude to Ardythe Hope and Brad Speakman, two Wilmington badly injured in the fire. they are still in the hospital, Chester Crozer recovering. We’re thankful as well for the safety of John Cawthray, Peter Cramer and Terrance Tate also injured in the fire and for all their colleagues.

 

For Delaware’s first responder community, in some ways tomorrow will be like any other. our firefighters, our police officers, our E.M.T’s and paramedics will be on call keeping us safe and secure. and we, the rest of us in our community and state and country, we’ll go on about our lives, many folks really not thinking about them until the moment we need them. but no matter what we’re doing and what we’re thinking, when their shift starts, they’ll be on. they’ll be on duty ready to run without hesitation, even into situations that would cause the rest of us to run in the opposite direction.

As Christiana Fire Chief Richard J. Perillo said this past Sunday the only thing we signed up to do was to protect our neighbors and neighborhoods, and that we will continue to do no matter what comes our way.

We are both so grateful for the dedication, the service and the love shown by the Delaware fire service to protecting neighbors. in that sense, today and tomorrow and the days after will be like any other in that we can continue to rely on our first responders and we are grateful for them.

But in so many other ways and the ways that truly matter, it just won’t be the same. for Chris’ and Jerry’s families and friends, for their brothers and sisters at the firehouse, for all the members of our first respond community and the Delawareans who had a chance to work or serve with them and to be protected by them, things won’t be the same. that’s why we pray for their families. we pray that tomorrow will be just a little easier for them than today and that the next day a little easier than tomorrow, and so on until the pain is eventually matched by the joy that comes from remembering someone you love. and by the gratefulness we all feel for having had the privilege to know someone special. one of life’s unsung joys is to look in a child’s face in the presence of one of their heroes.

Mr. President, have you ever seen a young child as a fire truck goes by, their eyes are wide with amazement as the station door rises, sirens wail, the lights flash and the bright red truck goes by with an American flag waving from the back. as adults, we notice it. we take notice. we wonder what might have happened and then we go back to our day.

Even though a child doesn’t know more than we do where the truck is going, they know. they know that that’s what a hero looks like. as a father, i look at firefighters like Chris and Jerry with the same sense of awe that young children do. not just because of their uniforms or the sirens or the truck, but because of their commitment, their deep and lifelong commitment to do a dangerous job. they love their children and their families. they have been there for their friends and neighbors.

They served their communities and their brothers and sisters, the firehouse tirelessly all while risking their lives every day leaving for a shift never knowing if they would come home that night or the next morning. that’s what a hero looks like. this week and the weeks to come, i know senator carper and i and our whole community will remember, will mourn, will pray for and be grateful for Chris and Jerry. like a child watching an engine rush by will see their lives fly by in our memories and our tributes knowing they went by too quickly.

Leaving us before we can truly appreciate where they’re going or why, but amides — amides so much we cannot know we can take solace in knowing they’re going for a reason far bigger than any of us. as we watch them pass into memory, we can say to ourselves what the child says when he sees a fire truck goes by, that’s what a hero looks like.

Let me leave you with the same passage from scripture shared by senator carper from john 15. greater love has no man than this to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. thank you, Chris and Jerry, for your sacrifice, your service, your love, and for laying down your lives for all of us. and thank you, senator carper, for joining me tonight. thank you, Mr. President.

About Staff Writer

First State Update's Delaware editorial team covers New Castle County, Kent County and Sussex County breaking news, political news, and general news stories. We bring the reader the latest news from the Wilmington, Newark, Dover, Rehoboth Beach and all point in between. If you have news to share, email us at desk@firststateupdate.com.

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