Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Involving Firefighter Deaths

By Randall Chase | February 24, 2020

DOVER, Del. — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Delaware’s largest city involving deaths and injuries of firefighters who responded to an arson.

The lawsuit sought to hold Wilmington officials liable for the deaths of three firefighters and serious injuries suffered by three others in the 2016 fire. It specifically argued that a policy of “rolling bypasses” that took fire engines out of service in an effort to save costs led to staffing shortages and increased the risk that firefighterswould be hurt or killed.

The judge noted in Friday’s ruling that the risk of injury or death is inherent in a firefighter’s job.

Even if the underlying risk is increased by violations of legislative mandates or standards of practice, it does not rise to the level of violating an employee’s constitutional due process rights if it isnot so elevated that employees will almost certainly and immediately be injured if they carry out their duties, the judge explained.

The judge noted that the policies questioned by the plaintiffs were well known and had been in place for many years before any firefighters were allegedly injured as a result.

Citing federal circuit rulings, the judge said that whilethe defendants may have a duty under state law to provide a working environment free from unreasonable risks of harm, they have no duty to do so under the Constitution.

Thomas Neuberger, an attorney for the plaintiffs, indicated that he plans to appeal the ruling.

Meanwhile, Beatriz Fana-Ruiz, 31, was sentenced to 30 years in prison in December after pleading guilty to one count each of second-degree murder, arson and assault.

Fana-Ruiz had been charged with six counts of first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence, as well as assault, three counts of arson, and nine counts of reckless endangering.

Authorities have said Fana-Ruiz was angry about her living situation and unhappy with her life when she set a fire in the basement of the row house where she was staying.

Lt. Christopher Leach and Senior Firefighter Jerry Fickes died at the scene after the first floor of the home collapsed. Senior Firefighter Ardythe Hope was hospitalized in critical condition for several weeks before she died.

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