On Friday, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released a report into the deaths of three Wilmington firefighters that were killed in the September, 2016 Canby Park rowhome fire.
The lengthy report is a detailed look at the incident that took the lives of Christopher Leach, Jerry Fickes and Ardythe ‘Ardy’ Hope.
On September 24, 2016, a 41-year-old lieutenant and a 51-year-old senior fire fighter died due to a floor collapse in a row house at a structure fire. Two other fire fighters were critically injured. One of the injured fire fighters, a 48-year-old female died on December 1, 2016, due to injuries sustained from the collapse and exposure to fire in the basement. Another fire fighter spent 40 days in a metropolitan hospital before being released. Two other fire fighters received burns during fireground operations and one fire fighter sustained an ankle injury. All three were treated and released from the hospital on the same day.
At 0256 hours, Engine 1, Engine 5, Squad 4, Ladder 2, Battalion 2, and Battalion 1 were dispatched to a report of a residential structure fire with persons trapped. Ladder 2 arrived on-scene at 0301 hours and reported heavy fire showing from the rear of the structure. The Ladder 2 Officer requested a 4th engine be dispatched.
Engine 1 and Engine 5 arrived and both laid supply lines from different directions. Battalion 2 arrived on-scene and assumed Command. Crews from Engine 1, Engine 5, and Ladder 2 went to the front door and entered the 1st floor at approximately 0307 hours.
At approximately 0309 hours, the Ladder 2 Officer, a fire fighter from Engine 1, and a fire fighter from Engine 5 fell into the basement. At 0310 hours, a Mayday was transmitted for a floor collapse and fire fighters in the basement. Fire fighters were able to get the fire fighter from Engine 1 (Engine 1B) out of the basement at 0318 hours. Crews were able to get the fire fighter from Engine 5 (Engine 5B) to the base of an attic ladder placed in the basement.
Crews in the basement were also searching for the Ladder 2 Officer, plus fire fighters were exiting and entering the basement. The injured fire fighter from Engine 5 moved away from the attic ladder and crews were unable to locate her. Two fire fighters from Squad 4 (Squad 4C and Squad 4D entered the basement from Side Charlie and found the lieutenant from Ladder 2 near the Side Alpha/Side Delta corner.
The two fire fighters from Squad 4 pulled the Ladder 2 Officer toward the doorway on Side Charlie. They got 4 – 6 feet from the doorway when a second collapse of the 1st floor occurred at approximately 0320 hours.
One fire fighter from Squad 4 (Squad 4C) and the lieutenant from Ladder 2 were covered by debris. Squad 4D was pushed toward the doorway and pulled out by a fire fighter from Engine 5 (Engine 5C). Squad 4C was removed from the structure at 0329 hours.
He was transported to a trauma center and pronounced deceased. The fire fighter from Engine 5 (Engine 5B) was located and removed from the structure at 0348 hours and transported by air ambulance to a trauma center and then a medical burn center. At 0430 hours, the Ladder 2 Officer was located in the debris pile and pronounced deceased by a paramedic. He was removed from the structure and transported to a trauma center. The fire was declared under control at 0550 hours.
The report lists an open sliding glass door, lack of scene size-up, inappropriate fireground tactics for below grade fire, lack of a personnel accountability system and ineffective fireground communications as contributing factors.
“As part of the strategy and incident action plan, the incident commander should ensure a detailed scene size-up and risk assessment occurs during initial fireground operations, including the deployment of resources to Side Charlie. Scene size-up and risk assessment should occur throughout the incident.” was the key recommendation listed in the reports executive summary
Tom Neuberger, one of the attorneys representing the families of the fallen firefighters and surviving firefighters from the September 24, 2016, Canby Park fire issued a written statement regarding the report.
“With the federal court case for Brad Speakman and the others pending, I may not be able to answer any questions you may have about the court case. Our 110 page Answering Brief will be filed on January 7th.”
He did address what he described as “the great matters of public concern which revolve around the NIOSH report.”
“It appears that continuing training and education for WFD firefighters is woefully lacking. Apparently, once trained, no firefighter is ever required to have any continuing education or training on the best practices and methods for fighting fires. Again, this appears to be a failure to guarantee that all firefighters are able to use the best methods to save lives. Progress in all sciences, and firefighting is a science, is continual and ever changing. All firefighters should be kept up to date in current best methods of firefighting. The City has failed to keep its firefighting skills up to date!”, said Neuberger.
John Rago, Mayor Mike Purzycki’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy and Communications released the following statement regarding the report.
“The City has received and is reviewing the NIOSH report, released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is titled, “Arson Fire Kills Three Fire Fighters and Injures Four Fire Fighters Following a Floor Collapse in a Row House – Delaware”. The title identifies the cause of this tragedy, and the report lists a number of contributing factors. The report speaks for itself. The City has no further comment at this time.”
Beatriz Fana-Ruiz, the woman charged in the deaths of the three firefighters, is expected to go on trial next March. She faces first-degree murder, first-degree arson, second-degree assault and seven counts of reckless endangerment, according to the Delaware State Fire Marshal’s Office.