STERLING — The cities of Sterling and Rock Falls are committed to improved fire service but will appeal what officials say are errors in a report by the Illinois Department of Labor investigation into the Dec. 4 fire that claimed the life of Sterling firefighter Lt. Garrett Ramos.
Sterling City Manager Scott Shumard and Rock Falls City Administrator Robbin Blackert issued a joint statement Saturday afternoon responding to the report sent to them April 5, and emailed to Sauk Valley Media the evening of April 8 by Ramos’ widow, Brittney Ramos.
It said the report contains suggestions for the Sterling Fire Department that already have been initiated, including reviews of standard operating guidelines and policies and provisions for additional training.
The points in the report the municipalities dispute are:
The misidentification of the Accountability Officer on the scene.
The report’s accompanying “Hazard Alert Letter” for Sterling, which they say refers to a separate and unrelated incident from earlier in 2021.
Rock Falls and Sterling scheduled a conference Tuesday to address those points.
The statement says city officials cooperated with the State Fire Marshal, the state Department of Labor and its Illinois Occupational Safety and Health Administration division.
“The city remains committed to undertaking a full evaluation out of respect and honor for the sacrifice of Lt. Ramos and a desire for continuous improvement,” the statement said.
Before receiving the report’s recommendations, the two departments reached out to the University of Illinois Fire Service Institute to update and schedule training for emergency scene accountability, rapid intervention teams, two-in and two-out policies and mayday procedures, the statement said.
The OSHA inspection report cited training deficiencies within the two departments, specifically how mayday calls are received, identified and located.
The joint statement said portable radios have been reprogrammed to avoid accidental changes between primary and tactical channels.
Sterling and Rock Falls also requested Whiteside County adopt the report’s recommendations to make improvements to dispatch radio coverage. The report says that gaps were identified and do not comply with National Fire Protection Association standards.
The report included fines to both the cities: The Sterling Fire Department was fined $24,000 and required to correct five items. The Rock Falls Fire Department was fined $12,000.
“We are reviewing those citations to determine the best course of action to serve our obligations to the members of the fire departments and their families,” the statement read.
The cities will not make additional comments on the merit of the citations “as we work through the appropriate legal process,” the statement said.
Ramos was held in the highest regard by everyone in the city government and the fire service, the statement began.
“We are humbled and grateful in the way the entire community came together to honor his memory and pray for his family,” it said.
Ramos’ was the first death in the line of duty in the Sterling department’s 150-year history.