Proposal would provide death benefit for Wilmington firefighters [video]

Wilmington fire truck (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Wilmington fire truck (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Proposed legislation would provide death benefit payments to Wilmington firefighters who are currently the only fire or police department not eligible for the benefit.

Last September, three Wilmington firefighters were killed battling a fire in the city. Because of an longstanding oversight, the families of Capt. Christopher Leach, Lt. Jerry Fickes and Senior Firefighter Ardythe Hope were not eligible to receive the death benefit that is provided to the families of other firefighters and police officers throughout the state. That benefit provides $7,000 to help cover burial expenses.

State lawmakers were surprised to learn that the benefit did not cover members of the Wilmington Fire Department. “I wasn’t aware of it, maybe I should have been,” said State Sen. Harris McDowell, D- Wilmington North. “It’s not something that pops off some page at you.”

McDowell joined Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki and other lawmakers in front of Wilmington Fire Engine Co. 6 to announce legislation to fix the omission and add the Wilmington Fire Dept. to list of workers eligible for the death benefit. “I think we’ll get this passed quickly,” McDowell said.

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The legislation would retroactively cover the three Wilmington firefighters killed last fall. “Government doesn’t necessarily always get it right, but when we see an inequity, what we do is try to right the ship,” said State Rep. Helene Keeley, D- Wilmington South. “We weren’t aware that this was not happening and to be able to stand here to day and to show our family of the firefighters behind us that an inequity will be made right for the sacrifices that you do.”

Instead of getting funds from the state, contributions from the community helped cover burial expenses for the three firefighters killed last year. If approved, the legislation would be formally known as the Capt. Christopher M. Leach, Lt. Jerry W. Fickes and Lt. Ardythe D. Hope’s Law.

Despite a tight budget year, McDowell said he doesn’t expect any problems getting quick support for this legislation.

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