VP Biden praises fallen firefighters as heroes and comforts their families


Bagpipes played and drums beat as more than 2,000 people packed the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington to honor Captain Christopher Leach and Lieutenant Jerry Fickes.

Wilmington Fire Chief Anthony Goode posthumously promoted Leach and Fickes during the ceremony. He also retired their badge numbers.

The Wilmington Fire Department awarded each man with Individual Valor Commendations. Senator Tom Carper, Senator Chris Coons, and Congressman John Carney presented the families of the two men with an American flag that had flown over the Capitol.

The International Association of Firefighters also awarded both Leach and Fickes with the IAFF Medal of Honor.

Vice President Joe Biden attended the memorial services for the responders from his home state, and addressed the fallen firefighters' families.

"Jill and I know from personal experience there's not a damn thing we can say in this moment that will ease that pain," said Biden. "We hope, as we did, you gain some solace from the fact so many people, so many people, so many people understood, appreciated, knew, admired, and absolutely were in awe of what your son, your dad, your brother, your husband, what they did."

"On behalf of, and I mean this sincerely, on behalf of President Obama and the entire country, our hearts go out to you," Biden told the families.

He praised both men's courage.

"Both these guys were heroes," said Biden, "but those of you who knew them, loved them, raised them, knew they were heroes long before this day."

He also addressed the men's children.

"I know to each of you they are irreplaceable," said Biden. "but I also know that their lives, their character lives in every single one of you. You guys, for the rest of your life, you're going to have a tough decision and you're going to be asking yourself, what would dad do?"

Firefighters traveled from all across the country to show their support. Firefighter Aaron Buchanan flew in from St. Louis, Missouri.

"That's what the fire department is," said Buchanan. "That's the history of the fire service. We're all brothers no matter where we're from. We've been all over the country New York, Boston, LA, Seattle, Florida, here, it doesn't matter. We all take care of each other."

His brothers agreed.

"We're a brotherhood. So, whether it's our company or another fire company, we all stick together," said Ryan Alexander, firefighter with Cologne Volunteer Fire Company in New Jersey.

"There's no words," said Bill Bryce, drum major with the Northern Virginia Firefighters Pipes and Drums. "You really can't find the words. You just do it. It's the brotherhood. That's why we're here. The brotherhood doesn't know zip codes or area codes. We're all over."

"To pay honor to guys who have faced conditions that we have and have given the time and the sacrifice," said Mike Bishop, a captain with the Garner Fire Department in North Carolina. "It's the least small token that we can say thank you and job well done."

All have the Fickes and Leach families on their minds.

"That's a big part about being here," said Buchanan. "Nothing is ever going to replace dad, husband, brother, nothing like that, but seeing these 15-20 thousand guys from all over the country, they know that they're part of the fire service family and we're not going to forget them."

Firefighters rang the last alarm and played TAPS at the end of the service.

"Hold each other tight, because when you do, they'll both be there," said Biden to the families. "God bless you all and God protect all firefighters."