OSHA: 2 Ill. FDs at fault in FF's death

Report: Command didn't know the home had a basement, the fire was mistakenly said to be controlled, and flaws in responding to Lt. Garrett Ramos' mayday call


Kathleen A. Schultz
Daily Gazette, Sterling, Ill.

STERLING, Ill. — Errors in policy and procedure by both the Sterling and Rock Falls fire departments contributed in large part to the death of Sterling firefighter Lt. Garrett Ramos, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration concluded.

Ramos, 38, died Dec. 4 after the floor collapsed and he fell into the basement of a home on Ridge Road in Rock Falls. According to the OSHA report, he was found unresponsive.

Lt. Garrett Ramos, 38, died Dec. 4 after a burning home's floor collapsed and he fell into the basement. He is survived by his wife, Brittney Ramos, and their children.
Lt. Garrett Ramos, 38, died Dec. 4 after a burning home's floor collapsed and he fell into the basement. He is survived by his wife, Brittney Ramos, and their children. (Photo/IAFF)

He was the first Sterling firefighter to die in the line of duty.

An initial look at the Illinois Department of Labor OSHA report reveals that, among the factors contributing to his death: 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.

OSHA's conclusion: "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.

"Furthermore, once a mayday call was received, the caller was not identified, and operations were allowed to resume.

"While everyone on the incident command team was responsible that day for firefighter safety, no one on the team exercised assertiveness (spoke up) to ensure that the victim was identified and rescued in a timely manner."

As a result of the OSHA report, the city of Sterling is being fined $24,000, the city of Rock Falls $12,000.

The OSHA findings, which Shaw Media requested via the Freedom of Information Act, actually were provided late Friday by Ramos' widow, Brittney Ramos.

She also sent this statement:

"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.

"Every person in command and his partner failed him. Due to their gross negligence and complacency, my husband and father of my children was taken.

"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.

"For four months every person in command has known ALL of the mistakes (11) that occurred and no one has stepped up to own their actions and acknowledge wrongdoing.

"There are many things that 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.

"When you refuse to face your failures, you can't learn from them. I expect each city to hold those that did not follow basic standard firefighting operations accountable and deliver an action plan for moving forward.

"This cannot happen to another family."

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(c)2022 the Daily Gazette (Sterling, Ill.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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