Local Editorials

Our View: How to prevent a tragedy

Widow Brittney Ramos: ‘Every person ... failed him. This cannot happen to another family’

Garrett Ramos

Two community fire departments made errors in policy and procedure that led to the death of Sterling firefighter Lt. Garrett Ramos, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration concluded this month.

The details of the report outlined by Shaw Local News Network reporter Kathleen Schultz are chilling and damning against the Sterling and Rock Falls fire departments.

Ramos, 38, died Dec. 4 after the floor collapsed and he fell into the basement of a home on Ridge Road in Rock Falls. He was the first Sterling firefighter to die in the line of duty in the department’s 150-year history.

According to the Illinois Department of Labor OSHA report, among the factors contributing to Ramos’ death: The fire command didn’t realize the home had a basement; the fire was assessed to be under control when it was not; Ramos’ mayday call was not identified as coming from him and he was not immediately found; once found, Ramos wasn’t given emergency air; and two attempts to remove him from the basement failed.

Schultz reported that OSHA found: “The hazard controls and safety measures established through policy, training and supervision in (the Rock Falls and Sterling fire departments) failed to prevent a firefighter mayday incident.”

As a result of the OSHA report’s findings, the city of Sterling is being fined $24,000, the city of Rock Falls $12,000. While the cities of Sterling and Rock Falls say they are committed to improved fire service, they said they will appeal what they call errors in the Department of Labor’s report.

Ramos’ death is a tragedy, and the report outlines what should have been done to save and protect him.

Ramos’ widow, Brittney Ramos, shared this note with Schultz:

“Losing Garrett has been the most heartbreaking, crushing pain and then to find out that a multitude of mistakes caused his death is an added layer of devastation.

“ ... No one has accepted responsibility for their role in Garrett’s death. Instead of owning their failures, the cities and fire chiefs are contesting the facts of the Illinois Department of Labor investigation.”

Brittney Ramos shared her suspicions of what cost her husband his life and maintains many things “need to be changed within Sterling and Rock Falls fire departments, starting with talking openly about mistakes and failures in order to learn from them. Neither department has performed a formal critique of the fire.”

Firefighters are highly trained public servants. They save lives nearly every day, and we are lucky to have them at the ready when disaster strikes. They prepare for as many situations as possible and how to respond in kind. They also are human, and mistakes happen. But we all can and must learn from our mistakes and seek to avoid repeating them.

The cities of Sterling and Rock Falls made this joint statement following Schultz’s report, that they remain “committed to undertaking a full evaluation out of respect and honor for the sacrifice of Lt. Ramos and a desire for continuous improvement.”

That sounds like the best strategy to move forward in the face of this situation. Sometimes the changes that are made in the wake of a tragedy help to save more lives in the future.