Detroit firefighter remembered as ‘old soul’
Until the end, Kevin Ramsey joked in the face of danger.
The 50-year-old Detroit firefighter, a 20-year veteran who died of a heart attack Saturday after fighting two fires, was remembered Thursday as a prankster who brought joy to his colleagues.
“I had the pleasure of riding with Kevin on his last fire,” Sgt. Carl Billings said during Ramsey’s funeral service at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Detroit.
“We had a rescue fire on the 15th floor (of a building),” Billings said. “As we were crawling up the last few steps, he was telling a joke. As we were coming down, he was telling a joke.
“On his last fire, he was telling a joke.”
Fire trucks from across Michigan lined Woodward outside the church Thursday, with a large American flag draped high above the avenue, held aloft by a pair of ladders.
During the service, Fire Commissioner Eric Jones told Ramsey’s widow, Amy, the support was heartfelt.
“Look around you,” Jones told her, nodding at the hundreds of people squeezed into the church pews. “Look at the support from all over. Amy, we are here for you.”
Ramsey, a member of the department’s Squad 3, had just fought two fires on Detroit’s east side Saturday when he returned to the station and complained to co-workers he was having chest pains.
Ramsey’s colleagues performed CPR, but he went into cardiac arrest and died.
“There’s no sadder day in Detroit when we lose someone who gave his life trying to keep us safe,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said.
Duggan said he was shocked when Ramsey’s co-workers began discussing other firefighters who had died of heart attacks.
“I’ve come to realize a firefighter is four to five times more likely to die of a heart attack than of smoke inhalation,” Duggan said, adding he wants to implement an early detection program in Ramsey’s memory to help avoid future heart-related deaths.
Mike Nevin, president of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association union, said Ramsey is just one of thousands of heroes who put their lives on the line every day.
“They’re out there doing it right now, in Detroit and all the cities throughout the United States,” Nevin said.
“Kevin was an old soul,” Nevin said. “The first day (in a new engine house), he walked in and said, ‘Are you slackers going to get to work or not?’ Every day, everyone knew when they saw him that he was their partner. He loved the job 24/7, 365.
“In every red-and-orange hell, Kevin was in there with his teammates,” Nevin said.
Ramsey was born and raised in Detroit, graduating from Finney High School before working at the Royal Oak Township and Highland Park fire departments. He joined Detroit’s department on July 19, 1999.
His hobbies included restoring Schwinn bicycles and collecting generators and old radios. He eloped with wife Amy on March 20, 2015; they were married on Belle Isle.
Ramsey is survived by his wife; stepchildren Albert and Amanda; sister, Kim Guy; nephew, Mike Guy; niece, Jennifer Guy, and her children.
During Thursday’s open-casket service, at 11:20 a.m., a dispatcher’s voice was played for the congregation announcing a minute of radio silence in Ramsey’s memory.
After the service, burial was scheduled for Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit.
In addition to the hundreds inside the church Thursday, dozens stood outside manning the trucks that lined Woodward. Among them was veteran Detroit firefighter Phil Romero, a longtime friend of Ramsey’s.
“He was one of those guys who made you happy to see him coming,” Romero said. “He was a really good guy.
“People don’t realize: When you’re inside a burning house, wearing all that heavy equipment — it really puts you at risk for a heart attack,” Romero said.
Ramsey was known for his pranks and for taking care of his mother after she contracted Alzheimer’s Disease, co-workers said, adding he took the ribs about being a mama’s boy good-naturedly.
“Kevin’s mission in life was to make you laugh and to make you smile,” Jones said. “How will you be remembered? Will you be remembered for bringing joy into people’s lives?
“That’s what Kevin would have wanted.”